Several weeks ago was the first week of fifth grade, or middle school, for my oldest daughter, Lillian.
She got into the car quiet as a mouse when I picked her up at the end of her first day, and little by little, as the evening wore on, she began to share about the events of the day and what had made her so quiet in the car.
Turns out she felt at the end of the day like so many of us remember feeling at the end of a day of middle school – a little unnoticed, a little faded into the background, a little like an old piece on a patchwork quilt. Part of that feeling was a result of her quiet personality, and part of that feeling was just what goes along with the territory of middle school. She faded into the background at lunch, she faded into the background in class, and overall, she ended the day feeling…alone. Even though she was surrounded by 64 classmates.
All summer (and let’s be honest, pretty much for all their lives) I’ve been praying for that “one friend” for my daughters…all four of them. Because let’s face it, with four girls to raise, what else does one pray about at this phase of life besides friendships, sassy backtalk, and emotional drama?
If you’re a woman, when you hear the phrase “one friend,” you know who I’m talking about. That “one friend” who saves you a seat at her lunch table come hell or high water. That “one friend” who chooses you in class, no matter who the new girl or the cool girl is. That “one friend” who invites you over on a Friday night, even if the most exciting thing you are going to do is sleep on her family’s pullout couch and watch a Fred Astaire musical…again.
I had a friend like that. And she was a best friend in every sense of the word. She was the cool kid and let’s just say I was…not. But she always choose me. And next to her I always felt like my place was secure. And if I wasn’t picked on a Friday night by anyone else, it was ok, because I knew I would always be picked by her.
And that’s who I’ve been praying for for my girls. And if we are honest, I think a lot of mommas pray that for their girls. Because for some reason, we think our daughters can endure and weather anything as long as they have that “one friend.”
So last week when I began to pray my “one friend” prayer for my daughters once again, the Lord quietly responded with a simple statement in my heart: “You might be praying the wrong prayer.”
And immediately the words of Ephesians 3:17-19 came to mind: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Apparently, being filled up with all the fullness of God, being rooted and grounded in His unchanging love, experiencing the height and depth, the length and width of a crucified Christ has nothing to do with having that “one friend.”
This was news to my heart. Not to my head – I’ve known these verses, memorized these verses, prayed these verses for years. But this time, the scripture translated to my heart.
My prayer for my daughters does not need to be, “O God, give them just one friend.” My prayer needs to be, “O God, no matter what happens in my daughters’ day, fill them up with all the fullness of Christ. Let them be so rooted and grounded in Your love, that no matter what happens, the knowledge of Your love, the knowledge that You are with them and always choose them and love to be with them, trumps any knowledge of despair, fear, shame, rejection, embarrassment, or sadness they might feel. Lord, would You please be their One Friend?”
And I am telling you, my heart flooded with peace when I prayed that prayer. Because that way, the pressure is off people. It’s off that “one friend” or any friend for that matter to perform in a way that communicates unconditional love and acceptance. And that pressure is transferred to God. And I can count on Him as a mom of four daughters to love each and every one of them through every situation. I can count on Him to choose them every single time. I can lean on Him to provide in their hearts what no human heart can ever provide – the rooting and grounding nature of the unchanging nature of the love of Christ.
And that gives this momma’s heart peace.
I had to repent for the lenses I had been wearing and the expectations I had been placing on other people – fifth, third, and first grade people for that matter! – to be something to my girls no one could ever be except the Lord. And I have been praying that prayer consistently ever since the Lord deposited it in my heart.
I don’t know what your prayers for your child or children have been over the summer or fall, and I don’t know what your expectations are when it comes to friends. But I can tell you this, you and I both will be disappointed if we are waiting on that “one friend,” for our children, or even for ourselves. Because what I am finding is that my daughter’s middle school feelings have the ability to pull up my own middle school feelings from years ago and make my feel like a fifth grader at a lunch table all over again. And even as a forty-year-old, I have found myself praying that “one friend” prayer, hoping a human can deliver for me what only God can provide.
Because at some point, as an eleven-year-old or as a forty-year-old, the expectation of a “one friend” is going to fail you. And what I am learning is that God designed it that way for a purpose.
Because how else in the world would we ever come to know and experience the love that never fails us if we could find it in a fifth grade classroom or at a forty-year-old lunch table? And maybe that’s what the Lord wants to teach you and me and our children this school year. Stop asking for the things that can’t help but let you down, and start asking for the one love, the one friend, that hung on a cross so that He could lift you to Himself and never let you down. He truly is your Perfect Friend.
Some of you may have read this post last week, only to find it disappear from my blog site – I apologize for that error! Last week’s post was meant to be Top Ten Things I Learned from a Hurricane, and this week’s post was supposed to be today’s, Finding a Friend. I am trusting the timing on when it was read – last week or this week – was sovereignly ordained for each and every heart. As always, thank you for being patient with me and all my technological errors!
Trusting the One Friend who never fails,
That first two weeks of school are sort of like an endurance test for moms. Not only are we required to have our children at the thing (like, say, school for example) in the appropriate uniform, clothes, costume, leotard, jersey, etc, with the appropriate props (like lunches and lunch boxes, bows with a monogrammed initial for those of us who live in the South, binders that are a specific measurement with tabs that color coordinate, cleats, tap shoes, baseball gloves, or swim goggles) but we are required to stay at the thing those first two weeks to makes sure we meet the teachers, know the coaches, learn the drill, and pay for any missing pieces of the props or costumes we have forgotten to assemble.
Two weeks in to the school year, I always have to remind myself, “It shall not always be this way. One day, I will again sleep. One day, I will again have ten minutes to put my feet up without having to go to another meeting. One day, I will again have the time to make a second cup of coffee. One day, I will again be able to sleep in until 6am and not feel behind. One day.”
It’s easy for moms to start to feel more like a deflated balloon than a rested, relaxed, normal human being these first few weeks of school.
So last week, I started to think about the word “dominion” instead of “deflated.” Strange, I know, because dominion is a word you don’t hear all that often and usually only when someone reads their Bible in the King James Version or comes across a sermon from Jonathon Edwards, the Puritan pastor. But dominion is an important word because it comes right out of Genesis 1: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV).”
Dominion over creation was a gift from God to the man and the woman He created, and it was a gift He gave to all of their descendants as well. But sadly, it is a gift those of us on planet earth do not often use very well. And it is a gift I don’t tend to use very well, especially during the first two weeks of school. Instead of ruling and reigning, I feel more like a kid running behind a school bus, trying to catch up since I was late to pick up.
In its simplest form, dominion means “to rule or to reign,” but the definition I like the most is “to take possession of honey from a hive” (The Complete WordStudy Old Testament, Spiros Zodhiates). God gave us the gift of exercising dominion so that we could walk through life more like bee keepers than authoritative dictators. And as the people of God, when we exercise dominion as we should, we extract all that is sweet and good from the fabric of life and weave it back into the order of the universe, helping all of creation to fulfill the God-glorifying purposes for which it was created.
But rather than extracting the honey and tasting its sweetness, I can sometimes feel like all I’m doing is chasing the bees, trying to shoo them back into their hive and getting stung in the process. Or, another way to say it, is I feel like I live in the defensive position more than the offensive. Rather than ordering my days and bringing sweetness and peace to the people and places where God has me, most of the time I’m just trying to play catch up or create a way not to feel quite so behind.
But I don’t want to live in perpetual defensive, catch up mode. I really don’t. I want to live in offensive, dominion mode, gathering honey from the hives God has given me and serving its sweetness and inherent goodness into every day living.
A few days ago, when I was listening to a talk on prayer on a cassette tape I found in my mom’s study (talk about old school), one point in particular grabbed my attention. It was this: “Intercession (praying for others) is not about making endless lists. It’s about praying the goodness of God’s will into other people’s lives; it’s about praying for people who are in your life. As you go to the Lord in prayer, ask yourself, ‘Who do I spend the most time with?’, and start there. Dominion is our gift in creation” (Mario Bergner, Listening Prayer Praxis).
When I heard that, the overwhelming emotion I felt was relief. Finally, in the craziness of the first two of school, there was a hint, a clue in the puzzle pieces, as to how to bring order and dominion back into my days. And I truly believe this – as long as we live here on planet earth, for the people of God, dominion begins and ends with prayer.
As I look ahead into the fall and the rest of the school year, there is so little I have actual control over. No matter how much I plan and structure and order my days and the days of my children, the bottom line is, I cannot control so much of what happens once my feet hit the floor each morning. But what I can control is the frequency and fervency of my prayers. I can daily, weekly, regularly, exercise dominion by lobbing consistent prayer into the very places and lives where God has given presence and influence and sit back and watch in eager anticipation what God does on a day in and day out basis.
I think most of the time why I don’t exercise dominion in my prayer life is because the sheer enormity of the task overwhelms me. I don’t pray for anything (or very little) because I feel like I have to pray for everything. I take my endless feelings of being tired and behind in life and drag them into my life of prayer. But we are not asked or required to pray for everything; we are asked to pray for the plots of land God has given us to tend. In other words, we are asked to pray for that which God has given us dominion over. And many times, prayer is the first and primary way we are able to be good bee-keepers of the areas where God has given us dominion. Prayer enables us to go into the hives of our schools, our neighborhoods, our churches, the lives of our spouses, children, close friends and family, and extract all of their sweetness and goodness while weaving it back into the fabric of those very same people and places.
So here’s the challenge: this week, I am going to be putting my prayer life in order. Will you consider doing the same thing? And here’s how I’m going to begin: I am going to think about the people and places who are most regularly and consistently in my life and start directing my prayers there. And then I am going to think about my broader sphere of influence and the people and places who God has put in my life or path but I may not see on a regular basis. Like ministries Jason and I are involved with or specific missionaries. The pastor whose teaching on prayer I was listening to made the point that one person cannot pray for more than 1-2 missionaries or ministries responsibly. So don’t add 100 ministries, or even 10 ministries or world problems, to your list. Just add 2. And then pray about those two regularly and responsibly. And guess what? If every single one of us did that, just those who read this blog, that would add up to over 400 ministries and missionaries being prayed for regularly. You, individually, are not the answer to the world’s problems or to single-handedly finishing the Great Commission. But we, collectively, as the Body of Christ, are the answer. And as we work together in prayer, each of us diligently laboring over the dominion and plot of land God has given us, we will begin to see great change take place in our cities, churches, communities, and world, and God begin to move in powerful ways.
Several years ago, to help organize my prayer life, I put together a prayer guide I titled “Persistent Prayer.” I have shared the entire document before in a previous post, but today I just want us to focus on the Intercession or “Ask” section.
Each day of the week has its own separate piece of paper, and on that paper, there is room to decide where God has given you dominion and how you are going to pray effectively in those areas. There is nothing fancy about this prayer guide; it is just a simple way to organize our prayers so that you and I can make sure we are praying. (Click here to download the document: Ask)
Every morning, I read a daily devotion in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus. At the end of every day, Keller includes a short prayer, and the prayer for September 3rd, the day I wrote this blog, was powerful and convicting:
Lord, prayerlessness is a sin against you. It comes from a self-sufficiency that is wrong and that dishonors you. Prayerlessness is also a sin against those around me. I should be engaging my heart and your power in their needs. Lord, I pray with all my heart that you would give me a heart for prayer. Amen.
In I Samuel 12:23, the prophet Samuel says to the people of Israel, the people God had given him specific dominion over and responsibility for, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.” Amen and amen. May God deliver us from the sin of prayerlessness and give us all hearts for prayer that seek first to connect with Him and then seek to extract the honey from the hives around us, beautifying God’s good creation with its sweetness and goodness, exercising rightful, beneficial dominion in the land God has given us.
It’s that time of year again. It’s the time of year when summer slips away and school stands front and center. It’s the time of year when schedules go to ninety from nothing, from staying up late and sleeping in to hearing the alarm go off to get everyone out the door for school at an hour in the summer when I was just shifting sides on my pillow. It’s the time of year that is so jam-packed-full for moms that by noon we’ve answered more texts, run more errands, organized more piles, filled out more forms, attended more meetings, and made more decisions than we have in the previous three months combined. It’s the time of year when my brain hurts and my body tells me that if I hear my alarm go off one more time at such an unholy and unhealthy hour, I will hurt somebody, prayerfully not my children. The funny thing is, I keep seeing commercials and videos of parents leaping around in glee, ecstatic at the fact that their children are going back to school, presumably because it gives them so much more time to themselves to linger by the kitchen sink to drink a cup of coffee.
What planet do these parents live on? And how can I get there? Back to school in this house means an increase of craziness, not a diminishing. And while I am looking forward to the structure and rhythm that school brings, I am already looking forward to the quieter, slow pace of…next summer.
But in the meantime, school starts today, and I want to figure out a way not to just survive the school year but to thrive in the school year. Heck, thrive is a big word. Let’s face it. I would be satisfied with just getting through the school year without any major meltdowns. I’m just going for progress. Yes, that’s the word. I just want to see progress this school year – in myself, my children, and in my home.
So what does progress look like? I began asking myself that question at the end of the school year in May because last year, I didn’t see much thriving or progress in myself. It was a surviving kind of year. The kind of year where we adopted a seventeen month old from China and were learning how to be a family. The kind of year where I added a child to our home school model, so two days a week, my three oldest children attended school on a traditional school campus, two days a week, I homeschooled all three of them here at home, and Fridays were “free.” Free to go on incredible, exploratory field trips and experience first hand about culture, museums, and the wonders of God’s creation, free to take extra lessons and become an expert in another language or a world-famous ice skater or equestrian, or free, like us, to lay on the couch and recover from the previous four days. At the end of the school year, after adding a third child to our home days and a toddler from China who could barely crawl, didn’t know a lick of English, and enjoyed making meal times super fun and enjoyable by gagging and hoarding food in her mouth, I was worn out. Worn. Out. Many of you know how much I love to read, and if this tells you anything, this summer, I think I read one book. My brain couldn’t take anything more than that. I simply rested. And my girls rested too. We didn’t do one math problem, or review any flash cards or phonograms. We all rested. Because we all needed it.
And I had lots of time to think about progress. And this is what I came up with. Progress never occurs without the Word of God in my life applied by the Spirit of God to my life. No Word, no progress. No reading the Word, memorizing the Word, meditating on the Word, understanding the Word, and surrendering to the Word, no progress.
So if I wanted there to be any hope of progress over the next school year, I needed the Word of God in my life. It was that simple.
So this is what I did. Beginning in June, I started to really think through the sin patterns in my life from the past school year. In other words, I tried to really think over the times I lost it – lost patience, lost kindness, lost self-control, lost love – and started grasping for control through controlling anger or fear. As I really thought through specific incidents, I began to recognize certain patterns in myself and in my children.
For instance, during times of the day or times in the school year of transition when life became really overwhelming, like the beginning of the school year or end of the school year, or like the end of the school day when my kids walk through the door to a calm, quiet, clean house and begin to talk, show me papers, ask me to sign things, tell me they’ve signed me up to bring things, and leave of trail of half-eaten apple cores, sticky nutella containers, backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, and dirty knee high uniform socks all over the house, I start to stress out. I know I am supposed to enjoy these moments of children overflowing into every part of my calm, quiet, space, and I can hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “You are going to miss this one day,” but so often, I don’t respond to the chaos, I react. And I always end up regretting my reactions later.
So to work on my responses to seasons of transition I know are coming up in my life, big or small, I memorized and meditated on Psalm 90:1-2, 10-17:
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God…
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!”
When I start to feel anxious about all there is to do at the beginning of school or end of school, when I start to feel like things are spinning out of control and I need to grasp to gain control, I think on the words of Psalm 90, I pray them back to the Lord, and I remember that God is my dwelling place; He is the stability of my times; He has been around before the mountains were born and the world was created, and He will be around long after I am gone. My roots go down deep into Him, and nothing can move me or pluck me out of His Hand, not even four kids descending on a calm, quiet house. And if I am asking Him to help me number my days, to give me a heart of wisdom, to establish the work of my hands, He will do it. What doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done. As one teacher at my daughters’ school said, I am to prepare, but I am not to lean on my preparations; I am to lean on the Lord.
As I continued to reflect, I also realized I can react out of fear, control, and anger with my children when I feel as though I haven’t accomplished in a day what I set out to accomplish or thought I had to accomplish for it to be a successful day. I start measuring myself, my home, and my children by someone else’s standards that define “perfection” to me, and when perfection isn’t attained, I can start to feel like a failure. And when I start to feel like a failure, I can begin to, unknowingly, take it out on my children.
So to help me with that struggle, I memorized and meditated on Ephesians 5:14-21:
“Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
When I start to feel like a failure, particularly at the end of the day when dinner, baths, piano practice, leftover projects and school work, plus my stack of to-do’s that hasn’t even been touched during the day all lies before me, I cans start to sink. And I can start to want to numb. Numb through eating or drinking. Numb through thinking about the Netflix video I want to watch later. Numb through texting or talking to a friend instead of engaging in the reality of the present around me. But Ephesians 5 says don’t sink. Sing. Make melody in your heart to the Lord. Give thanks in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It says don’t numb. Feel. Be Present. Surrender. And be filled. Be filled with the Spirit. So instead of numbing or sinking, I am trying to learn to sing, to put worship music on, music that points my heart and spirit to the Lord, and lean into Him. I am trying to give thanks. Purposefully and specifically for things that have happened during the day instead of all that hasn’t. And it’s amazing how as I turn my voice, my heart usually follows in the same direction.
There are other verses I have memorized and am memorizing – Luke 15:19-24 for learning how to welcome my children home. Proverbs 8:34-36 for learning how to listen to and walk in wisdom. Colossians 3:8-17 for learning how to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, and humility. Romans 13:10-14 for learning how to fight my flesh and fight for love.
None of these verses is a magic formula or wand that I wave or say and then “Poof!”, all of my negativity or controlling fear or anger is gone. But each of these verses is a door that I can choose to open and a path that I can choose to walk down. It is a step-by-step-by-step-by-step relearning of new habits to replace old ones. It is a moment-by-moment choice to stop, and remember, and reconsider life instead of death. Thriving instead of surviving. Progressing instead of regressing.
I won’t always do it perfectly this school year. I won’t always open the door and walk down the path. Sometimes I will plunge headlong off the cliff. But my earnest, sincere, humble prayer is that I will make progress. And by the grace of God, because of the kindness of God, and empowered through the Spirit of God, I know that I will.
So here’s my challenge to you. It’s not too late to start desiring progress this year. Take the next week or two and begin to think about your own sin patterns and the specific situations and seasons of life that trigger reactions instead of responses from you. Then grab your Bible and a stack of index cards, and write at the top of the card exactly what you’re fighting for and what sinful reactions you are fighting against, and then write the verse or verses you want to memorize below.
I punched a hole in the corner of my cards, put them on a ring, and focus on just one verse a day. I write it out in my journal, try to say it from memory a couple of times, and the next day add one more verse to it. It’s amazing how much my mind retains, even at the ancient age of 39!
Maybe you just want to focus on one verse this whole school year. Awesome. One verse of Scripture specifically applied to one reaction of the heart will make a huge and profound difference. Or maybe you want to memorize and meditate on ten.
But whatever you decide to do, do something. Don’t just settle for surviving. Aim for thriving. And as we lean on the grace of God through the Word of God, progress will occur.
“For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My Word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
First of all, Happy Memorial Day! I woke up this morning with a grateful heart for all of the men and women stationed around the world who defend our freedoms each and every day. Freedom to worship. Freedom to dialogue openly about issues that are important to us. Freedom to vote. Freedom to live without fear. And the list goes on and on. As a kid whose dad graduated from the United States Naval Academy, I grew up with a built-in awareness and gratefulness for those who defend our freedoms. I am so thankful for the reunions and visits to the USNA campus that gave me a small understanding of the cost of the freedoms I regularly enjoy.
A couple of years ago, Jason, myself, and my two oldest girls accompanied my parents to Annapolis for my dad’s 50th football reunion. As we sat in the Navy-Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium and watched Air Force and Annapolis play, I was struck by the words around the stadium – all battles where the Navy and Marine-Corps had fought to defend our freedoms – and how those playing on the field now would go in just a few short months or years to fight in battles that were yet to be displayed to a watching world.
For the full story of our trip to Annapolis and that game, read here – Playing With Heart.
But suffice it to say, today, and every day, I am thankful. Thankful for the great sacrifice that has been given so that you and I can walk in freedom.
(Believe it or not, that’s me on the far left, along with my friends Holly Casserly and Joanna Dawson, as a 19 year old visiting my dear friend, Edd Hendee, at the end of his plebe year at the Naval Academy.)
But in the midst of Memorial Day, and the great pause this holiday provides for us at this time of year, like I talked about last week, this time of year can be crazy for moms, and I mean downright crazy. I am not exaggerating when at times I think I might be about to lose my mind or not make it past the minute if I do not slow down, sit down, or lay down in the prone position for 48 hours at one time. I would think I was abnormal and really start to worry if I did not know that every other mother I’ve talked to this week feels exactly the same way I do.
It’s because our culture is nuts. Absolutely nuts. We are expected to go, be, do, and think in 100 different directions all at the same time. We are supposed to check our texts, keep up with our emails, coordinate everyone’s carpools, help everyone with their homework and projects, have dinner on the table, look presentable, exercise and workout to keep svelte and looking suave for swimsuit season, spend quality time with our children while planning playdates, future prom dates, and extraordinary Friday afternoon activities, all the while maintaining deep, quality friendships of our own in all of our spare time. And, oh yeah, be a great wife. My poor husband. Quality conversation consists of him patting my hand at the end of the day as I read or watch something on Netflix because I simply don’t have anymore words for anyone. They were all used up by four kids and end-of-school madness by noon earlier that day.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I just want to learn how to enjoy a day, one full day in its entirety, without panicking or having an anxiety attack about all that I’ve left undone. I just want to be fully present wherever I am with a mind fixed with great peace on the Lord, confident I’m doing exactly what He has asked me to do. Nothing more and nothing less.
But it’s amazing how everything in our culture – and I mean everything – pulls us away from spending steadfast time with the Lord. And while I am talking about time spent with an open Bible, pen, and paper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, I am also talking about steadfast thoughts throughout the day. A mind fixed upon the things of God.
I will be minding my own happy business, enjoying a solitary moment with the Lord in prayer when WHAM! All of a sudden I cannot shake thinking about the shoes I saw perfect for summer and if they have my size. Or I have visions of all the summer camp forms with packing lists and health forms still waiting to be filled out floating around on my desk or in my inbox. Or I know I have exactly one hour before I have to pick up carpool, my little one is down for her nap, and I have space – restorative space – to read, pray, rest, or write, and all of a sudden, I hear my phone buzz. Ten texts and thirty minutes later, my time is whittled down to half of what it could have been, and I am anxious and stressed about the to-do’s I just read on my texts.
But Isaiah 26:3 says this, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in you.”
This verse has calmed my heart many times through the years, but a few weeks ago, I was curious about the definition of certain words in the original Hebrew language. So I looked up the word stayed in my WordStudy Dictionary. Here’s what it said, “A verb meaning to lay on, to uphold, to sustain. It indicates placing or laying something on a person or animal, often in ritualistic or legal setting; a hand on a sacrificial animal…to lean against a wall with one’s hand….It has the sense of supporting or sustaining someone….In its passive participle, it describes a heart that is supported, sustained (Psalm 112:8).”
According to this definition, we are to place or lay our minds upon the Lord…and leave them there. The only way I know how to actually do that is to deeply trust whatever my mind, or hand, is leaning up against so that I don’t pull it away in times of distraction or panic.
In the same verse, the word trust means this: “to attach oneself, to trust, confide in, feel safe, be confident, secure; to be careless…The basic idea is associated with firmness or solidity. The word expresses the sense of well-being which results from knowing that the ‘rug won’t be pulled out from under you.’” I love that definition. We are to lay our minds upon the Lord confidently, safely, securely, knowing that the rug will not be pulled out from underneath us. In other words, we can deeply trust and rely on the God we serve and upon whom we lean.
How that practically plays out in my day is this: in the mornings, I must go to Him regularly, dependently, not needing anything from Him – not trying to get a lesson out of Him that I can teach or a Bible study I can write or a word I can share – but simply go to God for God’s sake. Because He is my good Father and in His presence, I experience great peace.
It means that during the day, when I pause to pray about a choice I need to make or a scheduling decision, I pause to hear His voice…and then I obey it. I don’t do whatever I want to do or makes sense in my logical, rational mind (although sometimes I do), I simply follow where He leads and trust that He has His highest and my best in mind.
It means that when I have a choice to follow along the path of the regular restorative rhythms I have set in my days and week, I follow it. I don’t check email. I don’t check texts. I pray. I listen. I write. I visit with a friend. I do the things that bring peace and joy and not just accomplishment.
And it means that when I blow it (which is often), I turn to embrace grace instead of condemnation, forgiveness instead of shame, and love instead of self-hatred from a God who is steadfast even when I am unstable and is there to catch me every single time I fall.
I am learning slowly, ever so slowly, that the steadfast mind doesn’t rely upon self but on the Steadfast One, no matter how uneven the ground, slippery the slope, or exhausting the season is. And there is a God whose love never fails and whose steadfast arms never let us go, as our minds choose to fully rely and lean upon Him.
“There is a way which seems right to a man,
but its end is the way of death…
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”
Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 3:5-6
Last week Mia Grace (our cute-as-a-button 2-year-old adopted daughter from China) and I were at her weekly Occupational Therapy appointment with “Miss Julie,” my new favorite person on the planet. Julie Ploetner runs PolkadOT Pediatric Therapy, and her office is pure heaven for Mia Grace. The minute she walks in the door, she heads straight for the rice pool (literally, a blown up plastic pool filled with rice and tiny plastic treasures of all shapes and sizes). She slips off her little shoes (sister wears a size 6-9 month shoe…her feet are TINY) and slips in the rice to play and pour and sift and sort to her heart’s content. After she’s had her fill of rice, she heads on over to a massive cushion with plastic frogs and turtles on top to see how many she can carry in her hands on her way down the massive “mountain” of fluff. It’s always good times in Miss Julie’s office. It’s amazing what spending time on pillows and swings and in rice tubs can do for one’s body and soul. I’m thinking adults should try it more often.
But as I sat there by Mia Grace, watching her sift rice through her little fingers, I was (very unconsciously) holding tightly onto a plastic necklace made up of stars and hearts. I would squeeze it with one hand, and then pass it to the other hand. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. All of a sudden, Miss Julie looked at me and said, “Is that comforting to you to hold on to that necklace? I’ve noticed each time you are in here you like to hold things in your hands. You must have a lot on your mind.” Wow. I’m pretty sure I looked at her like someone had caught me with my hand in a cookie jar.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve never thought about it.”
“But now that you say that, yes, in fact, it is very comforting. I always like to have something in my hands or I feel purposeless. Ungrounded and anxious about just sitting still.”
True confessions in PolkadOT Therapy. I considered right then and there if I needed to slip off my shoes and climb in the rice next to Mia Grace for a little therapy myself.
But Julie got me thinking, all week in fact. This time of year for moms can be downright stressful. Saying goodbye and finishing anything well always is. And saying goodbye to an entire school year with your kids takes a lot of time, focus, and energy. On top of that, the new season of summer looms on the horizon, and a blank slate stares at moms in the face, waiting to be filled in whatever way we think our family needs. No pressure.
But there is pressure. And that’s what Miss Julie picked up on. I often travel through life, especially this time of year, with a low level of continually burning stress. Through every appointment or conversation, I am present in body but my mind is running a million different directions sorting through every list on my desk and in my head. I constantly fight feeling behind or like I will never catch up. So at rare moments when I am just sitting, like I was doing during Mia Grace’s appointment, to focus my stress, to help my out-of-control feel more in-control, I hold things in my hands, or in this case, press the heck out of a plastic necklace.
There has got to be a place for our stress to go that doesn’t have anything to do with plastic necklaces or what we can control with our hands. I am learning, more and more, that I have got to leave things in God’s Hands, especially during times of the year when I am more prone to stress.
My husband, Jason, was teaching on Sunday morning about taking big risks for God. Taking risks to love other people well, to forgive when you don’t want to, to reach out and bless someone with a kind word…because people are dying all around us for a touch, for a word, and for us to be risk takers in this area of love and kindness in the Name of Jesus.
My tendency when the word “risk” is mentioned is to start thinking about risking all of our finances and giving everything away to the poor, risking all of my community and moving to India to share the Gospel, or risking my life and moving to the Middle East. But in the quiet of that moment in Sunday School, the Lord whispered to my heart, “What about risking all of your stress and putting it in My Hands? What if your greatest risk this week began with really trusting Me?”
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying – I think God does want us to risk big things for His Name when it comes to our finances and our time and our very lives. But I think He wants us to start with risking our hearts and who we really choose to trust.
The words of Jeremiah 17 came to my mind, and I’ve been thinking on them all week: “Cursed is the one who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
So this week, when I’ve been tempted to press something with my hands, I’ve been working on pressing the words of Jeremiah 17 into my heart. I’ve been working on practicing the presence of the Lord and the presence of people He puts right in front of me by trusting Him with my lists, my time, and the plastic necklaces I hold in my hands.
I practiced it last night when we celebrated Jason’s birthday and the girls made him silly cards and wore silly hats.
I practiced it when we pulled out the dvd player and watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the middle of the week for a birthday treat instead of answering emails and checking more things off my to-do list.
I practiced it by going up to the friend I never see in the grocery store and talking for ten minutes instead of ducking my head and praying we didn’t catch eyes simply because I didn’t have time.
I practiced it when Lizzie asked me to slow down this morning and scratch her back instead of getting on with fixing breakfast.
I practiced it by letting the girls enjoy cake pops this morning as a “last day of homeschool” treat instead of doing our usual routine.
And I practiced it this morning with an open Bible in one hand and a pen and paper in the other, recording all the ways God has been faithful to us this year, even when I have been faithless.
And I’m going to continue to practice it throughout the days ahead by intentionally trusting the Lord, putting all things into His Hands, instead of holding them so tightly with mine.
This morning when I saw my friend Brandy and we were laughing about the craziness of the end of school, she said, “It’s a good thing this is our last week because they either need to shut school down or send me away. At this point in the year, those are the only two options!” Amen, sister. But until the last day of school, the last homework assignment, the last teacher gift, and the last packed lunch, let’s continue to encourage one another to keep our gaze on the One who holds us all together, even our plastic necklaces, with His Hands.
Is anyone in need of grace this week? I know I am.
I needed it this week when my three-year-old clogged up the toilet for the 10th time, and my five year old decided to try to flush it down. I needed grace when I first heard the sound of the water gushing, rushing, flowing over the sides of the toilet bowl all over the tile on the bathroom floor. I needed grace when I frantically waded in my socks into the half-inch deep water on the floor and lifted the back lid of the toilet to see what in the heck was going on. I needed grace when I realized I needed to turn the water OFF and had to get down on my hands and knees in the toilet water to reach the knob to turn the water off. I needed grace when I went through every single beach towel we had to mop up the mess that had flowed all the way into the other room around our baby grand piano. I needed grace when I looked at the clock and realized we had been home only ten minutes from ballet and had only ten minutes to leave until swim team practice. I needed grace when I realized my husband was out of town and got to miss out on clean up duty altogether. And I needed grace with my kids when I started yelling at them in the midst of the toilet flow for all sorts of random things, things that had nothing to do with the toilet. I was yelling just to yell and doling out consequences left and right, making mountains out of molehills. I was also in need of grace the next morning when I tearfully apologized to my children for yelling instead of laughing, for losing it instead of loving them through it, for yelling angrily instead of waiting patiently for the flood of emotion (and toilet water) to cease.
I was a momma that needed grace this week, and lots of it. And if I was a betting woman, I would bet a lot of other mommas out there this week are in need of grace too.
Sometimes I think that one day, I am going to wake up and have outgrown my need for grace. Have perfected patience. Have gotten self-control down. Have learned how to completely hold my pride in check. Sometimes I think that one day I will never have to stoop down again in tears and repent to my children for being such a lousy mom because I’ve finally grown into the perfect mom, or at least a mom who can go at least a week without seriously blowing it in one way or another.
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Ann Voskamp, one of my modern-day mom heroes, at a conference Jason and I attended. We were able to visit together for over an hour, and I asked her all sorts of questions about raising kids.
She said lots of wise, grace-filled things throughout our conversation, but one thing in particular stood out. She was talking about how the cross of Christ intersects daily life as a mom, and she said made the comment, “As mothers, we have got to teach our children that we will never outgrow grace. It’s not like at some point if you have walked with Christ long enough that you one day outgrow your need for the cross. That your children are at one level at the foot of the cross, in need of grace, and you are at another, higher, loftier level. We are all at the same level at the foot of the cross – great sinners in need of great grace.”
As soon as she said those words, a burden of great guilt lifted off of my shoulders and was replaced with great grace.
She is right – who am I to think that I will EVER outgrow my need for great grace? Who am I to think that one day I will graduate from my need for the cross? That I will be in less need of grace than my children?
Moms, listen to me: one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to let them know that we are on their same level when it comes to grace. Our need is just as great as theirs. Our sins just as weighty. Our falls just as steep. We will never rise to the level of perfection but stay at the foot of the cross with them as long as we are their moms.
Doesn’t that take a load off? It certainly doesn’t mean that I can sin now with a clean conscience or without any conscience at all. But it does mean that I do not have to be surprised by my sin. And it does mean that I know the road to reconciliation with my children when I have blown it for the tenth time in a row that day. It means that I meet them at the foot of the cross on eye level, knee to knee, hand in hand.
As much as I wish it was so, my children do not need a perfect mom. They need a repentant mom who is willing to lead them to a perfect Savior, not only when the toilet is overflowing, but especially when the toilet is overflowing.
One of my favorite quotes comes from FB Meyer. He says, “Again He stoops from the throne, and girds Himself with a towel, and in all lowliness, endeavors to remove from thee and me the stain which His love dare not pass over. He never loses the print of the nail; He never forgets Calvary and the blood; He never spends one hour without stooping to do the most menial work of cleansing filthy souls. And it is because of this humility He sits on the Throne and wields the scepter over hearts and worlds.”
How do we survive the end of school? In our filth, we humbly let Christ do the filthy work of cleansing our soul again…and again…and again. Knowing even if we are surprised to be in toilet water again, up to our ankles in filth, He never is. It’s why He came – not only for our children but for us, their moms.
“Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 9:19-23
I don’t know about you, but this week, I was Tired. With a capital T. Yesterday, standing in line to pay for my lunch, I asked the checkout lady if a drink came with my meal, and after she answered “Yes,” I asked her the very same question again twenty seconds later. And I can honestly say I had no recall of asking her the very same question or her giving me a response just seconds before.
That’s what happens this time of year to all of us trying to survive the end of the school year: we lose our minds, lose our energy, and lose our stamina to even ATTEMPT to cross the finish line. I’m all for giving my girls perpetual “mental health days” from now until the end of the school so we can just stay in our pajamas, play Legos, and drink coffee (or watered down juice, depending on your age) until 3pm.
When I start feeling this way (usually twice a year during the month of December and the month of May), I have to remind myself to live within the Rhythms of Rest.
Here’s what I mean:
We are a people desperately in need of daily bread. Not once-a-week bread, or once-a-quarter bread, or once-in-a-while bread, but daily bread. And if I have learned one thing about myself in the past thirty-seven years, it’s that I can’t go one day without the bread that comes from the Bread of Life Himself.
Actually, let’s be honest, I can go one day. I can go a week. Or a month. Or a season. But while my body lives, my spirit starves and my flesh takes over. I become sickeningly selfish, angrily impatient, and degradingly demanding of Jason and the girls.
All it takes for me to get off of the rhythms of rest, devotional living, and daily surrender is one day. That’s it. That’s why the Living Word of God is deadly serious and literal when He says, “Give us each day our daily bread…” (Luke 11:3, emphasis mine) and you must “take up your cross daily and follow Me…” (Luke 9:23, emphasis mine).
None of us, not one of us, can go one day without feasting on the Bread of Christ, made available to us through meditation on His Word, yielding and depending on His Spirit, and wrestling and resting in prayer.
We turn inwardly to feast on ourselves and our flesh faster than the blink of an eye. How is that even possible for those who have walked with the Lord and lived in dependence on Him for so many years? Think of it this way: how long could an infant go without his mother’s milk? One day would be too long, even cruel, wouldn’t it?
As followers of Christ, while in many ways we are to grow and mature from drinking spiritual milk to spiritual meat, we are never to outgrow our spiritual posture of daily dependence. We are always to remain like infants, safe and secure, desperately dependent upon our Father’s Arms to strain and shield us from the attacks of the evil one and our own sinful hearts.
The sad thing is, during seasons of life when I most need the daily nourishment and rest the Word of God provides, it is often the first thing to go, the fastest thing I am willing to surrender. That action alone betrays my heart: when the rubber meets the road, I really don’t believe the Lord is my sole Provider. I believe I am. And the only one I really need to depend on for daily sustenance is…myself.
So when I feel the urge to stray, to chuck my rhythm of daily devotional living and check my email instead of opening my Bible and getting on my knees, I have to cry out: Oh Lord, teach me to stay within the rhythms of devotional living. Teach me to rest within the safe confines of time in Your Word and in prayer morning and night. For those boundaries You have established for us as Your people are the safest place to be even during (and especially during) the busiest seasons of life.
I read this week something that helped me tremendously:
“Crowds were thronging and pressing on Him; great multitudes came together to hear and to be healed of their infirmities; and He had no leisure so much as to eat. But He found time to pray. And this one who sought retirement with so much solitude was the Son of God, having no sin to confess, no shortcoming to deplore, no unbelief to subdue, no languor of love to overcome. Nor are we to imagine that His prayers were merely peaceful meditations, or rapturous acts of communion. They were strenuous and warlike, from that hour in the wilderness when angels came to minister to the prostrate Man of Sorrows, on to that awful “agony” in which His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood. His prayers were sacrifices, offered up with strong crying and tears.
Now, if that was part of the sacred discipline of the Incarnate Son that He should observe frequent seasons of retirement, how much more is it incumbent on us, broken as we are and disabled by manifold sin, to be diligent in the exercise of private prayer!…We must “shut the door,” enclosing and securing a sufficient portion of time for the fitting discharge of the engagement before us.
In the morning we should look forward to the duties of the day, anticipating those situations in which temptation may lurk, and preparing ourselves to embrace such opportunities of usefulness as may be presented to us. In the evening we ought to remark upon the providences which have befallen us, consider our attainment in holiness, and endeavor to profit by the lessons which God would have us learn. All this cannot be pressed into a few crowded moments. We must be at leisure when we enter the secret place.”
Come Boldly, David McIntryre in “The Hidden Life of Prayer”
What are your rhythms of physical and spiritual rest, prayer, and devotional living?
Do you need to make yourself take a nap once a week? Twice a week? Three times a week, in order to function as a normal human being who isn’t biting her children’s head off by six o’clock? Then do it. The never ending piles and plans of life can wait.
Do you need to begin the morning on your knees in desperate dependence on a cracked and well-worn Bible and end the day in grateful thanks or honest confession?
If you don’t have any devotional rhythms, make them. And if you do, stick to them, no matter the intensity of the season or what obstacles are hurled in your way. And hurled they will be. Depend upon it. The moment you commit to daily, dependent living, a child will get sick, a crisis will flare up at work, your inbox will overflow, but resist the temptation to let everything go and stick to it. That’s when the rhythm becomes a ceaseless flow instead of an inconsistent stop-start-knee-jerk reaction to life.
Think through your weekend. Think through your week. How will you rest? How will you live in daily dependence? I am praying for you to be strengthened with power in your spirit as you live dependently on the Holy Spirit, drawing much needed rest and nourishment from His daily bread.
And doing that, my friends, is not just how we survive the end of the school year, it is how we thrive during the end of the school year, come what may.
I did something on Sunday I have never done before. Not in seven (almost eight) years of mothering. I left my child. Completely forgot about her. Until we sat down at lunch. Forty-five minutes after church was over. I have never driven down the interstate as fast as I did that afternoon. I didn’t even care if I got a ticket.
When I walked into her classroom, the only people there were her teacher (BLESS HER) and the maintenance men. Literally vacuuming the floors of AN EMPTY BUILDING. Caroline looked at me and said, “Mommy! Where have you been?!”
Good question. Great question, actually. Because I had been all over the map that morning – arriving early to lead prayer, meeting and greeting people in our Sunday School class, helping friends find the right classroom for their kids, rushing out the door as soon as every head was bowed to make it to my niece’s baptism in time at a different church down the road. Hurrying to the family lunch to meet back up with Jason.
And that’s when it happened. I noticed the noticeable absence of my three-year-old’s presence. (Anyone who knows Caroline knows this is not hard to do; Caroline likes to make her presence known.) Running over to my husband who was standing in the buffet line, calmly spooning shrimp onto his plate, I asked, “Where is Caroline?”
“I don’t have her,” he said. “Don’t you?”
And I wanted to blame him. Really I did. Couldn’t I somehow make this his fault? His fault that we were all sipping on lemonade while our three-year-old was still sitting in the church nursery two whole neighborhoods and a fifteen-minute car ride away?
But the finger could not point to anyone except back at me. I had gone over my plans to make the morning work with my sister-in-law, with my mother-in-law, with myself. But not with Jason. I just sort of assumed he knew my thoughts. Assumed he knew that since I had the two big girls, he was in charge of our little girl. But clearly my plans had not been clearly communicated to anyone, including myself.
The only comfort was that a few months before, I had been with my sister-in-law when she had forgotten my niece. And received the dreaded you’re-a-terrible-parent-who-forgets-her-child phone call from the school receptionist. This, by the way, is not my sister-in-law who is related to Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie (see last week’s post, Easter Nest). I am pretty sure Ma Ingalls, nor my sister-in-law, Haley, has ever forgotten anyone for whom she was responsible. This is my sister-in-law whose house resembles Disney World and wherever she is, a party is sure to begin. With water balloons and an inflatable water slide or some sort of Disney character or entertainer to boot. But being the author of good times that she is, sometimes she forgets a thing or two if it’s not tied to her body…like one of her four children.
At least I knew I was not alone in my forgetfulness, and that alleviated (just a little) part of the pain from the walk of shame back down the empty church hallways, PAST THE DIRECTOR OF THE PRESCHOOL MINISTRY, with my three-year-old in tow. (I am fairly certain I will never be asked to volunteer in the preschool ministry again.)
Maybe all you moms out there need to be reminded that you are not alone in your crazy, forgetful, end of school, run-around-like-a-chicken-with-your-head-cut-off state either. Maybe you need to know you are not alone in your own particular failure or hallway walk of shame.
But I did learn something from Sunday’s episode. Actually, I learned a few things. Number one, take a deep breath. And number two, slow down. Did I put that in all caps? Let me say that one again: SLOW DOWN.
Slow down. And stop trying to be all things to all people. Which means that some people, or at the very least, one person, is going to have to be let down (at least, in your estimation). But the third thing I learned is that letting someone down is ok. Because you were never meant nor made to be all things to all people. Most people are probably more understanding then we give them credit for, and even if they are not, their world, and yours, will continue to go on turning, even if you are not at the very center of it. As a mom, you are supposed to be there, first and foremost, for your husband, and then for your little ones God has entrusted to your care. Moms, moms-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, brothers, brothers-in-law, friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, relatives in general, teachers, volunteer committees, to-do lists, parties, plans, end-of-year-gifts, dirty dishes, dirty houses, dirty closets – they can all take a backseat. They can handle being let down or ignored (closets, not people) if it means you need to stop focusing on them so that you can focus on the little people in front of you. Because when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, when you and I are racing around to be all things to all people, our little people are the ones who get hurt in the process.
And more than the perfect end-of-year party, or end-of-year gift, or biggest and best recital arrangement, or cleanest kitchen or closet or house, what your children really want, is YOU. Your presence. Your full attention. Your emotional compassion and care and love instead of your emotional exhaustion and frayed nerves.
This is not a guilt trip; this is a gentle reminder. To me most of all. During this month of the year, what can you let go of? What can you surrender? What demands can you give up so that you can give in to the needs of your family and your children?
Because what our children need this time of year is not a mom who performs perfectly at the end of every day and every end of year event; they need a mom who is present for them in the day in and day out ups and downs of the daily routine.
Don’t forget that. Because in doing so, like me, you may just end up forgetting a child. And in all of our remembering this time of the year, we don’t want to end up forgetting what is really important after all.