Four Thoughts For The Times When Parenting is Hard

This week, I got a report from Zoe’s preschool teacher that left me in happy tears. The little girl whose preschool transition I worried about so much is a leader in her class.

I do not need my children to demonstrate any of the traditional indicators of success—as long as they are kind, happy, and doing their best, I’m overjoyed—but I saw Zoe’s natural leadership emerge when she was just fifteen months old and wondered what it would turn into.  For the last fifteen months, this potential has largely been overshadowed by her behavior, and I wondered what other qualities were being hidden by the difficulties she experiences.

I’m so glad she is learning the skills that let her be her true self.

At the same time that she has been demonstrating her abilities in school, we’ve had a hard week at home—think lots of tears, screaming, scratching herself and others, biting herself, throwing things, hitting, spitting, letting herself out the door, strange sensory-seeking behaviors, and arguing about everything. I don’t believe that these behaviors reflect her true self, I don’t judge her for them, and I don’t give up on trying to help the girl underneath come out—but I do get tired.

I’m trying my best to be honest about my parenting journey with her without throwing her privacy under the bus and without writing anything that might make her question my love for her if she ever read it. It scares me that I might do something wrong as I write about this. But at the same time, I want to be honest because I yearn to connect with others who are experiencing similar things and let them know that they’re not alone.

The truth is that parenting the child whose name means “life” has been both the joy and challenge of my recent life.  I have done harder things, but they were, like, REALLY hard things (recovering from an eating disorder) and I had plenty of professional support. (Not to mention that when I was in ED recovery, all I had to manage was myself—and now I have to manage 3 people!)

During the first few months of Zoe’s behaviors, I would feel God’s love and presence so strongly in approximately 4% of my moments, and then there would be 96% of the moments where my toddler was drawing blood from my infant’s eye in the shopping cart at Trader Joe’s and the cashiers were fluttering around with a first aid kit and concerned looks and I was asking Him WHERE HE WAS because gosh, I felt alone.

And I’d pray, and feel a little better, but then they’d wake up at 12:30 and 3 and 5 am and need so much from me, and by 3 pm my faith that God was with me through all of this would fizzle a little. If He was with me, wouldn’t He be teaching me to do this better and wouldn’t I have more energy?!

My recovery from an eating disorder took years of slow, plodding progress.  Similarly, God has not chosen to snap His fingers and make my parenting journey easier (although He just gave me in-laws six blocks away, which definitely counts for something)! 

But as I constantly remind myself, just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean I’m alone—or that I’m not learning and growing with every step.   For example, my ratio now is more like 80% “cool, you’re with me, God, thanks” and 20% “what the ACTUAL heck do I do in response to this?” Growth!

This week, I felt compelled to write down four thoughts that God has been stirring in me—four reminders for the times when my child is having a hard time, when I feel like I can’t do this right, and when I need a reminder of His truth and design.

I thought I’d share them today, even though they’re a bit of a departure from my usual blog content. If you don’t like Bible study (or if you’re not a parent), feel free to skip everything else in this post, but studying these ideas has really blessed me, and I thought they might help someone else!

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(1) God made my child, and He calls her good.  She was knit together in the image of God and is fearfully and wonderfully made; His eyes saw her unformed body and all the days ordained for her when she was still in the womb. “Your works are wonderful; I know that full well” (Genesis 1:27,31; Psalm 139).

(2) God gave her to me to parent.  “Children are a heritage from the Lord; they are a reward from Him.” My daughter was placed into our family “with the help of the Lord,” and was the answer to our prayers for a child to love. He places each part in the body just where He wants it to be, according to His design (Psalm 127:3, Genesis 4:1, I Samuel 1:27, I Corinthians 12:18).

(3) I am not alone in this job. He wants to help me. He is “my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” I am never alone; I have an advocate to help me and be with me forever. When I pray “let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me,” I can rest assured that “He is faithful to His promises” and will help me (Psalm 71:3,; John 15:26; Psalm 71:18, 22).

(4) My job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through me to my child.  All outcomes are up to Him. We are told to teach our children to “love God with all our heart, all our soul, and with all our strength.”  These commands are to be on our hearts, to be talked about, and to be lived “as we sit at home, as we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up.”  This implies active pursuit of God in my own life. Teaching Zoe about God—and teaching her the skills she needs to be successful—are both important, but loving the Lord myself is the most important thing I can do for my children. Apart from Him, I can do nothing; fruit comes only from abiding in Him and loving as He has loved me. I can plant the seeds and water them, but in the end, only God makes things grow (John 15:12-13, 5; I Corinthians 3:7).

To recap, and make it personalized for you (if you are still reading):

God made your child and He calls him/her good.

God gave him/her to you to parent.

You are not alone in this job; He wants to help you.

Your job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through you to your child. All outcomes are up to Him. 

I hope these thoughts encourage you today! 

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What Motherhood Has Taught Me

I didn’t think God would trust me to take care of a girl.

After all, I hadn’t been able to take care of myself. My early adult years—the first chance I got to take care of myself—were overshadowed by an eating disorder, self-destructive choices, shame, and a persistent feeling of never being enough.

Thanks to the relentless love of the Lord and those around me, I finally broke away from the lie that I was small and worthless if I wasn’t perfect, and learned to care for myself. I found an area of the world that I wanted to impact, pursued it purposefully, and began to actually transform some very small corners of the world. Slowly, my view of myself changed. I could do imperfectly good things.

And yet, as I began to feel the pull towards motherhood, I never pictured a daughter. Although I worked with girls professionally, and did it well, I knew that parenting a girl would be a much bigger job and frankly, I didn’t think God would trust me with the chance to wreck a girl again. Surely, he’d give me a resilient boy—someone that society would prop up in the places I didn’t do my job well. Not someone that our world tears down little by little. Not someone who looks to me as their model.

So when the nurse came out and said “it’s a girl,” I was overjoyed to meet her—and terrified about how I would mess it up.

IMG_0035Little did I know that having girls would mess ME up—in ways I still don’t completely understand.

Having girls has taught me how little I matter. I don’t say that in a self-deprecating sense, but seriously—in the scope of the whole planet we live on, with all the activities and people and joys and sorrows, no one else is losing energy over how my stomach looks today versus yesterday. Having two precious girls has both allowed and forced me to take my gaze off of myself and to focus on things that are infinitely more important.

I read the news differently—with an eye for what the stories say about the world we are creating. I realize that I won’t have eternity here on this earth and I want to spend my time making this world more loving, more just, and more gentle for two special girls and other children like them.

When I cry and worry now, I’m angsting over others—not so much myself. Having daughters with active minds and bodies has kept me busy enough that there isn’t time or energy enough for a rabbit hole of self-concern. I’m often the last thought on my mind, which is such a relief. When I do have time “to myself,” I recognize it as the treasure it actually is, and usually spend it productively and positively.

And as I have watched my daughters’ chunky legs give way to thinned limbs and their toothless grins turn white and their words come where no words were before, they have taught me to appreciate time. I realize now that THIS IS MY LIFE. It is fleeting. I cannot grab the moments again; I have to spend them well and release them—onto the next.

IMG_2773Our last house had one full-length mirror; it was in my daughter’s room. I realized pretty quickly that she watched me every time I looked at myself in the mirror. Did I want her to see me body-checking and feeling inadequate, or did I want her to hear me say “blue looks good on me, now let’s go play?” When we moved, I didn’t even bring the full-length mirror, because I’ve taught my daughters that having clothes on our bodies and shoes on our feet is a gift…and I don’t want to waste time critiquing a gift.

Staying home with my daughters has involved financial changes. Out of necessity, I stopped shopping for confidence in the mall and started developing confidence that goes beyond my clothes. I’ve bought less than ten pieces of clothing in the last two years—and along the way God has demonstrated to me in a way I would have never been receptive to before that my appearance is irrelevant to my worth.

IMG_1012Having daughters has taught me how hard and how long I can work and how much I am capable of with God’s help.  It has strengthened my ability to find joy in tough times.  It has increased my creativity and flexibility and trust in God’s provision.  I used to crave achievement; now, I crave wisdom.

Having daughters has made me think about legacy. It has made me get detailed about the characteristics and values I want to bring to my everyday, intimate relationships. It has made me assess who I am and who I want to be—not with eyes of critique and self-flagellation, but with eyes of possibility and dreaming and excitement about who I could be for them.Zoe and Mom mountainI thought I understood grace as a scared 20 year old, eating huge plates of food and recognizing the second chance at life she had been given. I recognize now though that I never fully accepted the grace—only the mercy.

I knew God forgave me, but I was still on edge.  I had used my one screw-up, and He had saved me, but I better play it safe and not mess up again.

If I went back and told that 20 year old that she’d have daughters someday, she’d think “oh wow, God really gave me a second chance.”

Being trusted with these daughters, and learning how to walk with Him daily as I parent them, has taught me that there is no such thing as a second chance with God. Because grace isn’t a second chance; it’s a first chance over and over again.

He’s not slowly recovering from my last screw-up, reluctantly handing over the trust again—I am white as snow to Him. The old has gone; the new has come, and it comes over and over and over again.  He isn’t pacing while He waits for my inevitable fall; He knows I will fail and yet He trusts me.

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A decade later, I am shaped and moved and carried by this and only this: nothing I do can make Him love me more or less.  He loves me because He is love—not because of me.   

My flesh fits comfortably now because He made it and He loves it. And slowly I am learning that when He looks at me, He doesn’t see my actions or my efforts or anything else I do to “deserve” or “earn” his favor or “win back” His love after my mistakes.

He only sees me.  And He calls me good—because I am His.

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Last week, one of my daughters had a series of bad choices that led to an injury and a mess. As I washed her hands in her tiny bathroom she apologized over and over and over again: “I’m sorry, mama. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. ” 

“Honey, I already forgot what you did,” I told her, meaning it.  And all I could think of was the scripture—“you are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” 

We are clean—not because of our merit. Not because of our good choices.  Not because of our outstanding achievements.  But because HE LOVES US, and because He has decided that is enough.

Becoming a mama has put flesh and bones on the gospel message: He loves me enough to give me endless second chances.  He loves me enough to give me something important to do.  He loves me even though I mess it up.

He loves me because He is love.

And He trusts me to be a vehicle for His love on this Earth.

There is no greater privilege.


I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this blessing- and challenge-filled job without the support of my own mom, dad, mother-in-law, sister, partner, and group of wonderful friends.  Thank you to ALL of you for investing in me and my family and for being my friend on this journey.  And I am especially thankful on this Mother’s Day and on every day for my daughters’ birthmothers, who gave my girls the gift of life and who entrusted me with this job.

Oh, and here was our best attempt at Mother’s Day photos.  We should be models! 🙂

Mothers Day collage

Fall Report (Hint: It’s Good!)

At the end of the summer, I decided that my fall goals were to reconnect with myself, with rest, and with margin.  Here’s a little progress report on how that has gone.

Margin: 

When I set my fall goals, I knew very little about the structure of our fall. We were in the beginning of the home-buying process, and we weren’t sure about a timeline (beyond being out of our rental by January 1).  We still didn’t know if we’d find a good home or end up moving to another rental.

Since our fall was covered in question marks, I didn’t look for any additional work outside of teaching and the work I do through the grant writing business.  I also put a hold on my membership in a continuing ed/networking group I’m a part of.  Although I can’t point to many amazing professional experiences I’ve had this fall, I moved and unpacked my family and didn’t let anyone down.  Win.

Another win: this fall, I’ve been writing things like grocery shopping, exercising, and trips to Target in my calendar to make sure that I don’t wind up scrambling to “squeeze in” things that are priorities to me or that impact how well (and how happily) I can do my job as a household manager.

My fall course ended this week, so my last work projects of 2015 are writing one grant and finishing up some CEUs by the end of the year for my CPH credential.  Yesterday, I got an offer for some last-minute work.  Although we would have appreciated the money, I said no.  I only have a few more weeks before I go home for Christmas; I want to enjoy the holiday season with my family and not have to cram in CEUs every night.

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Myself: 

A few weeks ago, I took my 75th Jazzercise class.  The instructor makes an announcement when a student hits a “milestone” classes, and I have to admit that I was looking forward to my applause since I took over half of those classes in a state of chronic sleep deprivation.  Unfortunately, someone named Laura happened to share my milestone class, so people clapped for BOTH of us.  Ugh!  Thunder stolen.  Thankfully, I have been participating in a holiday challenge and should hit 100 classes before the end of the year, so hopefully this time I will get my own applause.  Ha.

All joking aside, Jazzercise has continued to be a great mental and physical outlet for me and gives me three additional hours a week of childcare that my kids love.  I am so grateful that I found this studio.

Other self care projects I can report on: I’ve been reading three books a month (this month’s books: some ridiculous Sophie Kinsella book, Women of the Word, and The Nesting Place), and have been meeting a friend once a week without my kids for an early morning walk.  I have also been doing my quiet times faithfully and going to bed earlier (last night, I am delighted to report that I hit the sack at 8:15).

I’ve also been straightening my hair on occasion and recently bought some new makeup which I am trying to wear a few times a week.  (Zoe’s recent comment while playing doctor: “mom, you have these lines under your eyes.  I’ll give you a shot and make them better.”  We have officially lived in plastic-surgery-hungry Florida too long).

I also went to a CONCERT recently! My neighbor gave me two free tickets to what turned out to be one of the coolest concerts I’ve ever been to.  I took my friend Susan (also a mom) and we had the best time.  I love music and used to go to concerts fairly regularly, but haven’t tapped into this part of myself very often since becoming a mom.  It served as a gentle reminder that I have lots of interests that are worth exploring from time to time.

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Rest: 

Rest is hard for me.

This fall has NOT been full of restful events (moving, house guests, etc.), but I have tried my best to allow myself to recuperate as needed.  This has meant spending a few of the kids’  nap times on the couch with Scandal and many evenings on the couch with a glass of wine.  There have ben a few Sunday afternoons where I’ve asked David to take the kids and go do something because I can’t be nice anymore.

The most concentrated moments of resting this fall came just a week ago when David and I took all of Thanksgiving week off and went to the beach with our kids.  Neither of us did anything productive all week long.  It was fantastic and re-charging and energizing.

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Kids eating ice cream on the way home from the beach? 
Doesn’t get better than that. 

But my favorite moment of “rest” from this whole fall happened yesterday.  I had hosted Zoe’s birthday party in the morning (she’s 3!! Sob!) As I wearily washed cupcake trays, I got an e-mail asking me if I could be available for a conference call later that afternoon.  Our sitter was going to be here, ostensibly so I could work, so theoretically I could have made this call work.

However.  It was Zoe’s 3rd birthday. I was exhausted from her party and her three hour wake up the night before.  And honestly, I just didn’t want to work.  I wanted to hang out with my daughter on her birthday.

I’m so sorry, but I am busy, I wrote back.

And then I spent the afternoon being busy.  I left Riley with the sitter and took Zoe to Starbucks in her new Elsa dress, where we sat together and played with a Playdoh activity bin for 1.5 hour. We went to Walgreens and watched every dancing musical toy. We bought quick-drying nail polish and came home and painted her nails.

“I love you, mommy!” my generally-non-affectionate child told me several times.

I am realizing that there is no shortage of things to be busy with—but not all of them are actually important.  If I can’t show up for the people and things that matter most to me—what’s the point? I want to be “busy” with the important things.  

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I AM BUSY.

Overall: This fall has felt like one giant win.  There have been some tough days (I still have two toddlers, people!!), but overall, I feel more joyful, energized, and present because I have focused on connecting with myself, rest, and margin.

Around this time of year, people begin thinking about ambitious goals for their new year—goals that usually don’t include things like rest and margin.  My humble suggestion? Instead of going big this year, do what author Emily Freeman suggests and “celebrate your smallness.”  This doesn’t necessarily mean settling for small goals; rather, it means realizing that you are one person who needs things like rest and margin, and that God will have to fill in the rest of “big” for you.

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A Reminder

A few nights ago, I walked out of my house with a dog and a heavy burden.  My day had begun with 4:45 am wake ups and ended with feelings of exhausted failure.  As my faithful dog and I plodded through the streets of my neighborhood, all I could think of was what I did wrong—what I could have done better—where I failed and where I didn’t do my best.

Then I looked at the beautiful clouds in front of me and realized: those thoughts are not from Him.

God doesn’t love me because I am a good parent.

He loves me because I am His.

In fact, God wouldn’t love me any less if I was a horrible parent.  Even if I was a deliberately neglectful or unashamedly self-centered parent, He would still love me the same.  His love for me is not based on my performance or goodness, but on His.

Parenting feels really important and IS really important, but it’s not all there is to me, and it’s not all up to me.  At the end of the day, He holds my kids and He holds me.  Nothing I do (good or bad) is as important as what He has already done.  And anything good I have done is Him, anyway.

The Holy Spirit is here to help me and encourage me, to coach and guide me and give me wisdom—not to burden me with shame and not to make me walk around with a pile of guilt weighing me down.

The Lord gives lightness.  Purpose.  Direction.  Wisdom.  Insight.  Energy.  Grace.  Love.  Rest.  Yes, He convicts—but always through the stream of those other things.  Anything else isn’t Him.

I just wanted to share these reminders with anyone who may need them.  And remind me too, ok?

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(image source)

On Love

I haven’t written anything about our failed adoption in a long time, and as much as I would like to say that my heart is all healed, it’s still something I think about often.  It’s so weird to me that the baby that was almost ours is now 15 months old.  I wonder if she looks like Zoe did at 15 months.  I wonder if she has Zoe’s spunk and zest for life, if she says as many words as Zoe did.  I wonder if she is being cared for in any minimally appropriate way.  I think about her, and I wonder, and I have no answers.

At the same time, I look at my second beautiful daughter—the one I wouldn’t trade for anything—and rejoice.  I rejoice and I marvel and I realize that I couldn’t possibly have the answers.  I only see a hands-breadth in front of me.

Trusting God to work purpose through my pain and entrusting God with someone I love are among the hardest things I have ever had to do.  Yet that is what we are called to do everyday as Christians and as parents and as life-livers.  The things we grasp tightest didn’t originate with us.  Loosening our hands and lifting them up with thanksgiving and trust is the only response that will free us to truly enjoy them.  You can’t own or earn grace.  You just live in it.

The same is true for answers.  You can’t own or earn them either.  Sometimes, you are given them, and sometimes you just live in the mystery—and that is still grace, although not always in ways you appreciate.

With that perspective, it feels trite to try to understand: “if it hadn’t been for Brianna, we would have never been in the adoption process and we would have never gotten Riley!” because really? If God wanted us to have them both, He would have made a way (thankfully for my sanity, He did not make this happen).  I’ve found that adoption makes you wonder what God really intends as plan A and plan B and I am increasingly hesitant to speak for God on these matters.

But what I do know is this: despite the pain, loving Zoe, Brianna, Riley, and their birthparents has been a gift and a privilege.

We are meeting Riley’s biological family this week for lunch and I am so excited to look into her birthparents’ eyes, give them warm hugs, and hear—really hear—how they are doing.  I am thrilled to show them how our child is growing and developing and how she claps to “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  I am nervous to see my parenting reflected through their eyes; I am hopeful they think we’re doing it well.  I am not new to this, so I know there will be some awkward moments and some lulls in the conversation where we don’t know what to say next. But I also know there is a gift of grace that binds us all together.

Glennon Dolyle Melton writes about her conversation with her young son after the death of his favorite fish:

“When he asked me, “why, mom? Why does God send us here where things hurt so much? Why does he make us love things that he knows we’re going to lose?” I told him that we don’t love people and animals because we will have them forever; we love them because loving them changes us, makes us better, healthier, kinder, realer.  Loving people and animals makes us stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways.  Even if people and animals leave, even if they die, they leave us better.  So we keep loving, even though we might lose, because loving teaches us and changes us.  And that’s what we’re here to do.”
–“On Fish and Heaven,” from Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts On Life Unarmed

I am thankful to have had the chance to love and to learn about love from these people.  It has made me stronger and weaker in the right ways and I am better for it.

Musings on Church

There was a boy who came to youth group, just because a girl invited him.  He had nothing else to do that night, and she invited him, so he came.  The leaders were friendly and the kids were friendly and over the night, his tentativeness turned into laughter and his hesitance into participation.

And when the night was over, the leaders and some of the kids said “are we going to see you next week?” and he said, “this happens every week? Is it here? Same time? Yeah, I think I’ll be back!”

And he was.

That night, the youth group was focused on planning “Youth Sunday.”

So a week later, he helped the youth group lead the congregation in worship.  He hadn’t been to church in a long time and didn’t understood much of what was going on, but it was “Youth Sunday”—and he was a youth.  He stood with the other teens and sang with the congregation.  He wore a Youth Sunday t-shirt.  He passed out bulletins.

He was back the next week.  That week, he signed up to lead a middle school mission week later in the summer.

That night, the girl that invited him asked me, “do you think it would be okay if I bought him a Bible? He’s asking a lot of questions and I don’t know how to answer them all. Oh, and did you know he signed up for our high school discipleship trip this summer?”

And I smiled.

In high school, I attended a church where you couldn’t sign up for summer trips without providing the trip leader with your written statement of faith.  Youth Sunday was the work of a small group of teens with polished testimonies and sterling reputations.  When I tried to make friends in the youth group, I was gossiped about for being “too popular” and having “too many friends at school,” with the dramatic punchline “and most of them aren’t even Christians!”

I’m glad I’m at this church now, with these Christians, with these non-Christians.

I’m glad I serve a God who is big enough to be glorified by the worship of a kid with no clue about His magnitude—only that he feels something and wants to know more.

God welcomes us extravagantly to the table that is set for all.  And although I did not set the table, it is my joy to pull out chairs for others and tell them I hope they stay for dessert.

My Hopes For The New Year

I’ve always been a big goal setter.  New morning, new week, new year–it doesn’t matter.  I love the new.  Opportunity and possibility are intoxicating to me, and so the end of December (my birthday AND the beginning to a new year) is basically excitement central for me.

This December, though, instead of thinking and praying and journaling and talking enthusiastically about my goals—I mostly find myself quiet.

This year didn’t really pan out exactly as I pictured it.  I actually have accomplished a lot of the goals that I set last December.  That part isn’t surprising;  I set good goals.  But the context in which I’ve met these goals is so different than what I thought it would be.

Last December, I shared with my family that I would become a mother of two in 2014.

That is true.  It happened about five months later than planned, and with a different baby and set of circumstances.

Last December, I set some business goals.

I met those goals, but with a different line of work than I had planned on.

Last December, I set goals—picturing how I’d live them out in my daily routine, house, neighborhood, schedule, life.

My day-to-day life looks completely different now.  We moved, had an extra child, and both changed jobs.  I wash my dishes in a new sink, walk my dog in a new neighborhood (and less often…sorry, pup), mother one child with less attention than I could give her in the past, somehow meet the needs of another too, work for a new organization, and feel a different weight and responsibility from my husband’s job than before.  I went from feeling like a confident mom for whom mothering was easy, to a mom who has to ask Jesus daily for wisdom and patience and ability and energy because being the primary caregiver for these two little lives is the hardest job I’ve ever had.  I’ve implemented the spirit of those goals into my new life and situation, but I certainly didn’t picture all of this last December.

Honestly? After a few great years in a row, this year held many struggles for me.  Most surprised me.  What got me through was the knowledge that “I the Lord do not change…” (Malachi 3:6) and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  Nothing was a surprise to Him.  Nothing changed His goodness.  And I trusted Him.

2014 wasn’t my favorite year in history, and it certainly isn’t what I pictured—but on the eve of 2015, I find myself at peace with the struggles, journey, and joys the year held for me.

And maybe it’s because of that peace—a peace not dependent on my circumstances being easy or happy or predictable, a peace drawn only from the Lord—that I feel no need or desire to set goals this year.

I don’t need to improve dramatically at anything; I just want to continue growing in general in the roles I have been placed in.  I don’t want to get passionate about new things; I want to choose joy in the current things.  I don’t need to start anything new; I need to keep going with what has been started for me.  I have less and less need for MYSELF to make changes and more and more desire for the Lord to increase in me instead.

My mom took a few photos in August that sum up my desires (and challenges) for the year ahead.

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IMG_5636My hope for 2015? That I can savor and embrace what I already have—the challenges, the joys, and the unexpected moments.  They are all gifts from God. And I want eyes that see and a heart that says thank you.

Loving God in the Midst of Mess

This post is going to be short and simple, but it’s what I have today.

A few weeks ago, I was having a bit of a bummer day.  David had left early that morning for a meeting, I was drowning in to-dos, and Riley napped poorly and just wanted to be held.  I felt guilty for overlooking Zoe’s needs to tend to Riley, for having a house that was so messy, for having uncompleted tasks all over the house, and for the fact that I was struggling to be joyful and patient through it all.

Why is this so hard? I asked God.  Why don’t I have this DOWN by now? 

In response, He brought this series of pictures to mind.

IMG_1552Thanksgiving beach trip 2012

1505333_708589090215_1688169908_n

Thanksgiving beach trip 2013

photo 4-6

Thanksgiving beach trip 2014

Oh.  That’s why 🙂 Life is constantly changing, and my goal shouldn’t be mastery of a life stage.  (That stage will inevitably change anyway!)

Better goals: seeking the Lord’s presence and will, pursuing contentment and joy, and loving others, myself, and the Lord no matter where I’m at.

So—the girls stagger their naps so that I have no time to myself between the hours of 5:20 am–7:30 pm? (This happens to be today’s scenario). Thank the Lord for the gift of my girls and for the opportunity to serve Him well through loving them, and seek His energy and patience to help me make it through.

Work deadlines that feel out of reach? Seek God’s guidance in how to structure my time, and pray for His help in working efficiently and effectively in the time that I know He will provide.

House is disastrous? Thank God as I clean for the possessions we have, for the house that keeps me warm, for the gift of my health that allows me to bend up and down as I pick up the toys.

Feeling frustrated with myself because this is hard? Remind myself that it IS, but that I can do all things through Him—and that He loves me for me, not for my efforts, outcomes, or the ease with which I do this all.  Give myself some grace. (And maybe a latte from time to time…have you seen this “Blank Space” parody video? HILARIOUS).

On that musical note, I’m off to practice what I just preached with 3 foot naptime rebel…wish me luck!

More Grace

We have had some REALLY good days lately.  The girls are in such a sweet spot.  We’re mobile, they’re getting along, we’re on a schedule (and they can deal with reasonable changes to the schedule,) I’m keeping up with work, I’m being active most days of the week, and our house isn’t a total disaster.

To get here, I’ve had to let some things go.

No part of our dinner last night was homemade (unless you want to count my impressive culinary techniques of “boiling water for pasta,” “microwaving vegetables,” and “opening a jar of pasta sauce” as home cooking). Clean laundry might sit in a hamper for a week.  This morning’s Target haul is still sitting in bags, unpacked, while I write this blog post.  I ate Zoe’s sandwich leftovers for lunch.  I haven’t sat down for a formal Bible study time since Sunday. Zoe excitedly shouted “Clifford!!!” at Barnes and Noble story time yesterday, and I think the other moms thought that she recognized him from the books—but it’s definitely from the show. I blow my coffee budget by one coffee a week every week.

But this is life right now.  And I’m writing this while I finish my cup of coffee, before I grade papers, before I put away the Target haul and wash the bottles and clean up from the morning—writing while my heart remembers the scene right before naptime:

I was dancing with my girls—both of them—to “Your Grace Is Enough.”

We probably listened to the song ten times.  Each time the song ended, Zoe would just keep dancing like the groove machine she is, saying “more grace! More grace!”, fully expecting that I would play the song again.

Zoe gets it. 

I spent so much of my life being afraid of failure.  I didn’t make the jump rope team in third grade, and literally never tried out for a sports team again.  In junior high, I was on a recreational swim team but I wouldn’t go to meets because the thought of trying my hardest and losing stressed me out too much.  I went through struggles in high school and college and hid them way too long.  And in 2006, I met the Lord in a place of desperate need and said I guess grace will have to do, because I have no options left.

I was the most reluctant grace recipient ever.  Like I GUESS I’ll take it, but man, I WISH I could have earned it.  If only You had given me more time before hitting rock bottom, I might have created my own grace and not needed You for it! 

I’m so thankful that God grows us over time and not all at once, because 2006 Sarah would have been majorly freaked out by 2014 Sarah with her sometimes stay at home mom, sometimes consultant, sometimes professor, sometimes hands-on and sometimes Clifford-on, “letting some things go to focus on what matters most” instead of “trying to be good at all the things” self.

In the past, I didn’t always apply myself fully because I didn’t want to try my hardest and not be pleased with the results.  I thought “grace” was an excuse for not trying.

Now I know that grace is the reason I CAN try.

Grace gives me the freedom to try my hardest and give my all, knowing that any results are up to God anyway and that failure or success don’t define me.

Grace gives me the freedom to stop trying in areas that don’t matter to me, and to focus on where God has called me, trusting that He will make all things work together for my good and that the responsibility of making life work is off of me.  Grace is letting go of my need for perfection and letting something better and more lasting define me and guide me.

Grace is dancing through life, living as the me that I was created to be, saying “more grace!”, fully expecting that more grace will come.

Because it will.

Transformation by Toddler

I’m living in a token economy right now.

Due to some previously-alluded-to adjustment issues, sweet Zoe—and everyone else!—now receive a sticker reward for “nice touches” to Riley.  I personally am wearing one sticker; Riley is wearing three (the rules get a little fuzzy after the sticker is awarded).

In addition to our positive reinforcement, we are also making heavy use of “time out.”  Even Java, our bichon poo, spent some time in time out today for not listening (Zoe’s advice to our canine inmate: “sorry to mommy!”)

I was never one of those moms who was totally overwhelmed by a newborn.  There were tough moments, but it was actually easier than I expected.  Your basic duties: hold them and help them stop crying.  You’re doing great!

Toddlers? Totally different story.  Your job description reads teach, coach, prevent injury to other and self (this involves putting yourself “in their head”—basically, lose half your wits, pretend you drank three energy drinks, and feel ALL THE FEELINGS at once and you might be close) and MAKE A HUMAN BEING OUT OF AN ANIMAL.

Now, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t mention that I genuinely enjoy toddler Zoe.  I’m actually kind of obsessed with how funny, intelligent, and interesting she is.  But every so often, she seems untamable and I just think, please hold me and help me stop crying.  I have no idea what to do with this kid.  

IMG_3483“Just taking a cute photo of Ri—AHH!!”
Toddler impulse control strikes again.

And those times make me feel like a real big failure.

On Wednesday I was feeling particularly bogged down in despair at my inability to control (I should probably write “positively coach,” but let’s be real…) Zoe’s behavior when I got to leave the house for a few hours for a work meeting.  I put my lipstick on and walked out of the house, trying to avoid a conspicuous fist pump as I breathed in the sweet, sweet air of freedom.

As I trotted into our city’s coolest coffee shop sans stroller, diaper bag, or concerns, I thought: maybe I should go back to work full time.  At least I feel successful at this.

And then, as we waited for our conference call to start, one of my fellow team members showed me pictures from her daughter’s recent wedding and then read this blog post out loud to me.  And unexpected tears came to my eyes because I realized: there is so much more to come.

Raising a toddler is hard.  When each day takes everything that I have, it’s hard to keep the long view in focus.  I find myself focusing only on this stage’s successes (or often, challenges).

But as my teammate reminded me, I’m not raising my girls to be toddlers.  I’m raising my girls to be teenagers, adults, professionals, friends, moms, wives, grandmothers.  There’s a whole life ahead of them.

And when I look up long enough to remember that? It totally changes my perspective.

The day-to-day life in the two-under-two trenches is hard, but by working with them every day on kindness and gentleness and self control and sharing and all of the things that make us, you know, NOT ANIMALS, I am hopeful that there will be days ahead of me where:

  • my preschool-aged daughter will share some of her favorite things with her younger sister (this already happened this weekend when Zoe and I were leaving a birthday party and she told me that she wanted to share her party favors with Riley!)
  • my elementary-aged daughter will discipline herself to work towards a goal she is passionate about
  • my middle school daughter will stand up for an underdog at personal cost to herself
  • my high school daughter will love volunteering with children at an underserved elementary school
  • my college aged daughter will understand how to set boundaries
  • my adult daughter will thoughtfully consider her gifts and the world’s needs, and make a career choice she enjoys
  • my adult daughter will understand that a good relationship takes work, and will be dedicated to doing her part of the work, producing a joyful and life-giving relationship that we’re all proud of
  • my daughters will be friends. Maybe, they will even be MY friends.

It’s easy to focus on the toddler behaviors that need to be modified (and they do need attention).

But when I take a step back, look into my daughter’s eyes, really see the amazing human being in front of me, and dream for a second about the potential, that is so much more life-giving and inspiring.

IMG_3496I don’t have all the answers to deal with Zoe’s pinching problem.  My sticker system may not work.  I might lose my temper sometimes and other times I might be so shocked by a behavior that I can’t muster a good response.  Riley will have a whole different set of issues when she gets to this age (pray for me?)

But Zoe isn’t just a toddler.  She is a human being with a beautiful heart and limitless potential. She’s a gift.  She’s MY gift.

I love what Gloria Furman writes in her book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: 

“God’s sovereign grace releases me from the worry that I’m doing a haphazard job of orchestrating my children’s lives for them.  The gospel reminds me that a mother’s plans are not ultimate; God’s are.  God is the one who has created these children, and he has far more intentional intentions to glorify himself through these kids than I could ever dream up

He knows the number of their days and no part of their story surprise Him.  He is the God to whom we want to actively, daily entrust our children.”

My expertise is limited, and some days my patience is too.  But God knows what she needs—and what I need.  And as I earnestly seek Him, I am equipped with what I need to serve her, and to grow into the mom and person God wants me to be.

Some days, I look at my daughter thinking “AHHH! She needs to change!!!”  But really, we’re both on a transformative journey.

And the sweet thing is that we’re traveling together.

Photo on 9-22-14 at 6.57 PM