A Grace Rebel’s Mother’s Day Survival List for Grieving Hearts

I’ve said it many times before, that expectations may be listed right up there with money as the “root of all evil”. Expectations, like those we have on “special days” set aside to honor us…birthdays, Mother’s Day…or holidays that really weren’t ever meant to honor us, but we’ve somehow claimed with our expectations…like Christmas and Easter…set us up for disappointment, regret, and feelings of unworthiness and lackluster. No good comes from it. Expectations can rob the joy from any woman, on any day, but there is an extra measure of struggle for bereaved mothers and for those battling infertility. An added sting to a wound already so deep and oozing with hurt.

Surely, I think mothers should be honored, and motherhood is a sacred gift. I’m grateful that I can be called mother by the boys I have with me on this earth, and grateful that I am called the mother of Faith, Grace, and Thomas in heaven. The interesting thing about Mother’s Day, is that while we are busy holding up our standard for what it means to be a mother, and to be adequately honored on our day, while comparing ourselves to one another and feeling all levels of discouragement and brokenness, the actual birth of Mother’s Day was a selfless one from an unmarried woman named Anna Jarvis, never able to bear her own children, and had just recently lost her mother (who herself was a bereaved parent). And, yet, she chose to honor those who are called Mother.

Inspirational. To the point where it almost makes me feel less rebellious of the day. Since my mother died, I’ve not been the biggest fan of celebrating. My heart swells with aching to be honest. Aching for what isn’t. But, Anna’s example, pierces my weary, battered heart with conviction. I know the desperate ache that drives a mother who lost her baby to feel agony, like salt in the wound when considering Mother’s Day, or when watching another woman enjoy what she is so longing for and unable to have. But, Anna, in her ache and in her need, honored the women who had what she longed for so desperately. I wonder if we could love one another with that kind of sacrificial love, as women. Our Lord certainly knows, we could use a bit of that. My heart, while often warmed by the beauty of many women in my life, has also felt the chilly sting of the measuring stick held up by some, the envy, comparing, criticizing, sizing up, tearing down, that women can do. Oh, the ugly of that. Most recently, the sting has cut me to the core.

What if we loved and honored others like Anna, and even more so, like Jesus? Laying down our lives…our needs, wants, desires, to honor and love someone else. What if we did that?

And, if you’re still feeling rebellious about Mother’s Day…because I’ll admit I am, perhaps instead of allowing a day to steal every ounce of our fierceness, our beauty, our joy, we could choose instead to soak it in and embrace the day. It doesn’t even have to be about being a mother.

1. If you feel like running away, do it. Maybe plan a day trip with your husband and kids…or just your kids if you’re a single mama, or just your husband, if it’s just the two of you…or a friend if you are a single lady missing your mother or your baby. See a movie, have a picnic, eat at your favorite restaurant, go to the zoo. Get the Pete out…of anywhere that makes you feel like wallowing.

2. If you want to take a big long nap and say forget it. Go ahead.

3. Take some time to relax. Soak in a bath (with lavender essential oils if you want to really treat yourself!) Start reading that book you’ve been meaning to dig into. Sit on the back patio and sip lemonade.

4. Read a promise from scripture, one that reminds you that you are a dearly loved treasure. Just as you are. I like this one:
“I passed by you again and saw you were old enough to love and to be loved, so I offered Myself to you in marriage. I wrapped my garment over you to cover your nakedness. Then I gave you My divine promise to always be your Beloved, and I entered the sacred covenant of marriage with you. I wed you, and you became Mine. I bathed you with pure water and washed away the old blood from your skin, and then I anointed you with fragrant oils. I dressed you in an embroidered gown and put the finest leather sandals on your feet. I gave you the most luxurious linens and exquisite garments. I decorated you with the most expensive jewelry: bracelets for your wrists and a necklace for your neck, a nose ring, costly earrings, and a stunning crown for your head. I adorned you with everything a woman could wish for: gold and silver, the finest clothes of linen, silk, and embroidery. You dined on elegant meals made with fine flour, honey, and olive oil. You became a beautiful woman and carried yourself as a queen! You became famous among the nations for your extraordinary beauty—beauty that flourished only because I lavished My splendor on you.”
So said the eternal Lord.
~Ezekiel 16:8-14 The Voice

5. Pray a little. And, if you’re so broken and done you can’t muster words to pray, just sit with Jesus awhile. Just as you are.

6. Watch the sunrise, or sunset, or both.

7. Reflect on the gifts you’ve been given (And, I’m not just talking about the scrawled crayon signature on your Mother’s Day card, although that’s certainly allowed to make the list)…just anything that is a blessing in your life. I know it sounds cliché, but “counting our blessings” is a powerful weapon in completely changing our perspectives from weariness to hope. Gratefulness beats bitterness every time.

8. Eat something yummy.

9. Allow the luxury of a deep belly giggle if you can conjure one to the surface.

10. Thoroughly, unabashedly enjoy your people…your tribe. Whoever they may be.

11. Wear something pretty and put on lipstick. Or lay around in your favorite holey pair of yoga pants. Just be you.

12. Dance it out. Sing it out. Write it out. Paint it out. Play it out. Run it out. Do what you do.

13. Climb on the back of a motor cycle and feel the wind blowing your hair wild and free.

14. Reach out to someone else who is feeling down, or alone, or full of the missing. There is always a filling up in the pouring out. It’s just God’s Math.

Just know, dear mama-hearted friend, that you are covered in love and grace. This day and everyday. You never walk alone.

My friend Kristi recently shared her own thoughts on making peace with Mother’s Day and being more sensitive as a church on Mother’s Day.

Four Things

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Last night, I came home at about 11pm after a blur of several days of falling short and not measuring up as a wife and mother. The demands of a growing ministry, one that I consider a sacred privilege, often keep me from home for stretches of time. When I am home, it is difficult to ignore, even for a little while, the emails and messages coming from families walking the path of losing a child. My heart longs to walk alongside each one and offer some measure of comfort, just as God so faithfully and abundantly comforts us. He tells us to offer that same comfort to others.  I had been at a training all day, and hosted a small support group that evening. When I arrived home, I waded through the dishes, piles of laundry, and middle school boy socks scattered about. My heart weighing heavy with the ache of mommy guilt. Not because of the outward mess, which I find rather endearing, evidence that my house is full of the gift of active boys, living life. But, because of the mess I felt inside.

Sometimes, we mothers juggle. I’ve never been adept at the juggling. I drop the balls. Habitually, in fact. Last night, I missed piano lessons, baseball, and homework as I cried with, prayed for, and listened to mothers missing their babies. I want to be there. I’m called to be there.

And, to be here.

I found it ironic that I was to write a post encouraging mothers today. For, I have never felt less equipped to offer another mother advice or encouragement. Often, those are the times when God chooses to use us. When we are so poured out, it seems there will be nothing worthwhile left to give. Perhaps, there is some redemption in that place of feeling so small and inadequate. Perhaps, we can begin to find some shred of raw truth and sustaining grace in the brokenness and not enough. For, is it not the wondering cry of every mother, every woman? The wrestling with not enough.

We struggle, wanting desperately to measure up to a standard, forgetting that our Father created us, and smiles on us, just as we are. He loves a beautiful, broken mess. He chooses the broken vessel, and delights in the beauty of it. As she lays there, feeling broken and helpless, her pieces scattered about, He steps forward, walking past all the expensive precious vases on the shelf, those pristine and without blemish, and He picks up the broken one. The one scarred and dented, abused and tossed aside by the storms of life.

He says, “I choose her.”

I think sometimes he treasures the broken vessel because more of Him gets poured out through the cracks. The picture of His grace and love oozing through my broken mess, gives new meaning to this place of my not enough. For in my not enough, He answers….plenty. In my weakness, He makes strength.

Tonight, in a conversation with a friend, words of encouragement spilled forth. Wisdom from above.

I said, “There are four things to remember as a mother. You will mess up daily. You will wrestle with your shortcomings and you will need the measure of sufficient grace that God gives you each day. You will need to remember that His mercies are new every morning…and great is His faithfulness. But, there are four things essential to get right.

1. Make sure that you have given your children God’s Word, taught them to cling to Jesus by living your walk with Him, by being real. Make sure they know how to pray and cling to Him. And, pray for them, dear Momma. Faithfully.

2. Love. Love fiercely and freely and with complete abandon. Love your kids with the I Corinthians 13 love. Love them and everyone you come into contact with. And, love their friends.

3. Always, always, say what you mean. Do not say it, if you don’t plan to do it. Tell them the truth. Keep your word, and teach the value of the integrity of meaning what you say. Children are like magnifying glasses for hypocrisy.

4. Grace. Give grace. This world will beat them down and break their spirits, plenty. Your home should be a safe haven from the tumultuous judgment and harsh realities of this fallen world. Give grace to them, and grace to yourselves. When you mess up, numbers 1, 2, and 3, give yourself grace. Let your home be a haven for you, too, dear momma. A place to be accepted as you are and covered in God’s love and sweet abundant grace. At the end of the day, let your bed be free from anxieties, a place for rest as it was intended.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

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Raising Generations Today is an annual conference designed to equip and inspire moms to reach the hearts of their children for the glory of God. Through providing valuable resources, inspirational speakers, practical teaching materials, and the connection of moms in every season of parenting, Raising Generations Today will offer hope to women so that they may embrace and thrive in their roles as moms. I have the privilege of speaking at this amazing event on March 21st & 22nd, 2014 in Corning, New York. If you would would like to enter to win a FREE ticket, use the Rafflecopter below!

 

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Sometimes You’re Just Standing by the Wrestling Mat…

My youngest son took a liking to wrestling the last couple years. We are a family of golfers. We like golf and baseball, you know, sports that don’t involve germ infested mats and head-gear and things called take downs and choke holds. We are a gentle, peace-loving people. But, James wanted to do it. So we supported him. It’s important to help your kids find the place where they can shine and use their abilities…and even learn, grow, and get stretched out of their comfort zones. We entered a world where, let’s just say, it was evident, we weren’t at the country club golf course anymore.

His first match, he quickly found out that his opponents weren’t going to be so gentle and forgiving as his buddies at wrestling practice. Time and time again, he was body slammed back to the mat with a force that seemed to shake the floor. The coach wasn’t there beside the mat to offer words of encouragement, like the coaches from the opposing schools. Not wanting him to be alone, I stood beside the mat…having no idea what to yell, as his face looking up at me in shock and awe, eyes wide, while a strong, sweaty arm encircled his neck. I could only shout, “Keep your head up…get up. Keep fighting.” He got up, only to find himself slammed back down again. And again.

The next match, his confidence was rattled. We stood by the mat, looking into the stony, dark eyes of a kid in a black singlet with a rat-tail haircut. I looked at James and saw sheer panic. He wears his emotions, not just on his sleeve, but on every inch of himself. His face was pale, lips dry, eyes revealing how much he didn’t want to be standing beside that wrestling mat.

He said, “Mom, I think I’m going to throw up.” I was pretty sure I might need to do the same.

Instead, I leaned down to him, and said, “You can’t let him know you’re afraid.  You need to be strong. You need to think about how mad you get at your brother sometimes. Get mad if you have to. You can do this. You’re going to be ok. Just fight hard and do your best.”

It wasn’t working. Panic knows no reasoning.

I leaned down, feeling my own anxiety heighten as I pictured the cradle hold rat-tail boy put on the kid he wrestled before James. I leaned down and said, “Remember David and Goliath. Don’t worry about the size of the giant. God is with you, you can do this.”

And, then, seeing his little hands shake, I whispered, “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world. You can do all things through Jesus Christ who gives you strength.”

He survived the match, and didn’t get pinned or flung like a rag doll. He fought hard…he mustered the strength. Improvement.

But, more importantly, he didn’t run and hide when he wanted to. He stood at the mat, he made his feet walk forward, he stood toe to toe with a scary boy ready to fight until the death…or um…pin. It didn’t matter. The biggest battle wasn’t fought on that mat that day. The biggest battle was fought…and won while standing beside the mat. 

Oh how many spiritual connotations can be gleaned from his experience. How familiar the panic that gripped my son appeared to my own anxiety-ridden heart. I stand on stages and have most of my life, to sing and now to tell the story of the most sacred places of my heart. But, before. Before I stand on the stage a war rages…almost every time. I am the little boy, hands shaking, standing  beside the wrestling mat, pale-faced and certain that I will puke. Sometimes I even do get sick. It’s a facing the giants moment every time I prepare to step out of my comfort zone and onto a stage or in front of a group.

The panic knows no reasoning.

No positive words of affirmation and encouragement can make me do the thing before me. No reassurances, no matter how true…that “I’ve done this a thousand times and I will be just fine” seem to even permeate the gripping anxiety. I want to throw up. I want to run. I don’t want to do this. At all. Fight or flight. I want to flee. But, like James, I must stand and fight.

How?

The same way we fought the giant beside the wrestling mat….by using the only weapon in the arsenal strong enough to conquer the stronghold of the terror we are feeling in that moment. The weapon that’s sharper than a double-edged sword. God’s Word.

Ephesians 6: 11-13 ~ Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Sometimes the biggest victory happens in the standing…and the stepping.

2 Corinthians 12:9 ~ And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

From  The Message ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

        Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My

grace is

       enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Keep Going

I know that I’m way behind posting about some recent happenings…

The Grace for the Journey Conference

The October 15th Lantern Release

And, updates on the new SGM building space which has left me a bit delirious from painting all week!

It’s coming.

But, tonight, I have to share about something else. I had the honor, today, of cheering on behalf of Tug Robison, son of my dear friend Ginny at the Columbus Marathon. He was honored by Nationwide Hospital, with the duty of cheering for the runners on Mile 23 of the 26 mile race. You may remember reading about Tug, and his miracle last year.

It was such an honor to stand by him and his wonderful family, shouting words of encouragement to each runner. Tears filled my eyes more than once as I heard Tug say, “Finish strong…you’re almost there. You can do it.” I imagined his parents saying the same words to him as he re-learned how to walk, talk, write, ride his bike, run, play sports after the accident, and during his recovery from time spent in a coma.

 

“Keep going! You’re almost there. You can do this!” I shouted the words over and over again, until my voice was hoarse, shaking my cowbell and hand clappers, as each runner passed. I looked over at Ginny, fist pumping, jumping up and down, giving each runner a “Heck yeah!” from her gut. I nodded and smiled.

There were runners cramped and dragging their legs, bent sideways from the pain, arms frozen in position, tears streaming down their faces. Runners who looked like they may have been in the midst of chemo treatments. Runners with names on their backs and faces that told the story of one who knows about “The Missing”…like the one whose shirt simply said, “For my Beth”. Runners carrying an extra weight for 26 miles in honor of fallen veterans, runners who, even in their weariness, sweat dripping, bodies aching, lit up when they saw us cheering and clapped their own hands for Tug Robsion… survivor, fighter, hero.

Keep going. The words, I said over and over with all my heart today keep rolling in my mind, as I think of  grief-stricken mothers carrying the weight of sorrow, the ache of empty arms, women who are battle weary just from the struggles of this life. The words also bring to mind this spiritual race we’re running, and how much we need someone to cheer us on when we’re weary.

Reminds me of this verse in Hebrews 12: 1-2

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I think of those who have gone before us, spurring us on  from heaven when I read this verse. And, I also think of how much we need one another to encourage us to keep going…to say we’re doing great…to breathe words of hope into our weary, beauty into our ugly, and healing into our broken. God never meant for us to do it alone. And, He wants us to finish strong, looking to Him as our example.

Today, was beautiful…just like this man who stopped to ask Ginny to take his picture along the way.

You know I just love how God sends those unexpected gifts our way. Like the conversation I had with this beautiful NICU nurse from Nationwide, about The Missing…you know what I’m talking about…if you’re missing someone.

The motto for Tug’s Miracle Mile was “Yes You Can”!  And, it’s true. Not only for the runners of the Columbus Marathon, but for the runners of the race of life. Yes, you can finish strong, as you look to the author and finisher of your faith. Yes, you can do all things through Jesus Christ who gives you strength. Yes you can keep going, because you are not alone, dear sister (or brother).

It was such a blessing to be a vessel of encouragement today. Such a simple, tiny offering. But, it meant something. And, it makes me think that such a small thing as encouraging another human being to keep going when they want to give up is a pretty easy thing we can all do to impact someone else’s life. I’m praying God will give me opportunities to do it more often. And, that I’ll be listening and looking when He does.

Thank you, Tug…and my Ginny for letting me stand with you today , to get to feel the overflowing of blessing from your miracle. Our Father sure is good to us.

Mamas Stop Searching

It’s tempting to have a heart that wanders. The Israelites mastered the art of it quite well, even with the Lord speaking audibly to them, giving them visible affirmations of His presence.

They wandered, often choosing the wilderness instead of the promised land.

We all do. When my children were younger, I was still so young as well, and in moments tempted to spread my wings, searching for the next thing to fulfill my wanderlust. A career? A calling? A dream to pursue? The Lord would always gently pull me back toward home, reminding me that I already had a calling, no need to search for something more. What could be more important than these lives, standing before me with brown eyes beckoning?

There were moments when I wondered what I was missing. After all, I once was a girl who longed to be on the stage, felt at home there, playing the part of someone else, reassured with accolades, affirmed with applause. But those temptations passed, quickly by, paling in light of their soft little boy cheeks, brown eyes looking up at me, filled with stories to tell and mouths to feed. I melted at the truth, the intense reality of the gift that they would tell me the stories of their hearts.

I was given a voice. Not as grand as many.  Nothing special, really. But, a voice nonetheless. For singing, for speaking words, for praying, for worshipping, for comforting, for admonishing, for encouraging. A voice meant to lift up, to speak love, to impart grace. Do I use my voice for that? Do I count it for the privilege it is? Sacred, this fleeting gift.

I watch the mamas, searching for something else. Something that gratifies, satisfies, fulfills. But, nothing will. Nothing will, like listening to their stories and soaking in the gift of them wholly. I am among those rushing by without noticing, sometimes, swept into the flurry of the days. But, when I stop, the fullness of soaking them in astounds me. We need not rush, striving and seeking, dear mamas, for what lies right before us, sleeping soundly in their beds.

I sing on a stage, often. Humble stages, church stages. Sometimes to worship my God. Sometimes to honor my country. Sometimes to celebrate the joining of two lives. But, last night, when James couldn’t sleep, and he asked me to sing to him, something soft and quiet to help him rest, my heart swelled. I sat on the floor, in the dark, quietly singing Amazing Grace. My God, my boy, and my humble voice, being used for the purpose He planned. I closed my eyes, remembering the gift of singing to Timothy and James as babes nestled safely in my arms, singing over my mother in her last days, singing over Thomas in his last moments as Jesus carried him home, singing worship songs through tears on my face in my room. The fullness that comes from doing exactly what we are born to do evident and flowing abundant, more so than anytime I stood on a stage.

I was chatting with some mamas yesterday, beautiful mamas whose hearts are firmly turned toward home, moms who know the value of being there and soaking in right now. They were talking about the practical matters of raising and training up our children. I was reflecting on the years I spent on the details, wondering if my children would ever grasp this or that, would I teach them adequately? Would they ever learn? I don’t worry about that anymore. (Not that I don’t still worry about some things!) It has all become quite simple and ridiculously free.

The most important things to know to mother boys (and maybe this is true for girls as well, but I don’t know a lot about that):

Honor God with your life. Live it. What you do speaks volumes more than what you say.

Teach them to see God’s hand in everything, to love His Word.

Be available. In the morning, in the middle of the day, in the wee hours of the night.

Listen, and truly care about their stories. Love what matters to them. It is a sacred gift that they want to tell you their stories. Value and respect it.

If their rooms are messy, close the door and go bake them cookies. Your time is limited…they will not be there to make a messy room or eat your cookies forever.

If boys fill your kitchen, no matter how many, no matter how tired you are, filling their bellies and listening to them fill your house with their laughter and stories will fill your heart more than anything else on planet earth. It is a gift that they want to be in your kitchen.

Stop searching and enjoy them.

Give them…and you grace, abundant grace.

Laugh with them.

Embrace who they are and encourage them to soar with their gifts.

 

Some Musings About Fathers ~ Leading by Example

I spend a lot of time on the golf course with my sons. Timothy, I have followed behind, careful not to distract him from his focus. He never wanted me overly involved in golf or anything else. He greatly values his independence, and has always been that way, from the day he was born. James doesn’t mind my presence a bit. He will still hug his mama and allows me to walk with him on the course, rather than staying many yards behind. He talks to me in between shots.

God made my boys very different. They each have their own unique personalities. As a mom, I have the privilege of enjoying their boyness, listening to their stories, standing in awe as it becomes evident that bodily noises remain hysterical to them no matter how old they get, making them treats, encouraging them in their pursuits, nurturing them, and praying my heart out for them.

But, I don’t know how to help them become men, to inspire them to rise to the occasion, to lead by example, to show them how to throw a ball, change the oil, run a piece of construction equipment. That’s why God have them a father.

I am so grateful for my husband, and the gift of fathers to our children.

Yesterday, as I walked the golf course with James, the other father in the group felt compelled to give advice, not only to his son, but mine as well. Relentless advice. With every shot. There was nothing terribly wrong with it, and he meant it for good. James did not seem annoyed as he listened patiently, but, it was bothersome to me. I realized that my husband doesn’t do that. It made me grateful for his quiet way. I remember years ago, thinking and praying about his quietness, sometimes concerned because he didn’t parent or communicate the way I did. I didn’t understand that he could inspire, often without a word. He led so much more by example than with many words. Again, I don’t always understand what it takes to grow a young man, to inspire him to be more than he thought he could. My husband, quietly does it. He does it with our children, and other young men who have come into his life, and worked for him over the years. He is the kind of guy you can respect and trust. He leads by example, and by allowing a person to try something and maybe even get it wrong. He doesn’t hover over them, requiring perfection, or hounding them to get it right. He gives a little advice when asked. But, he doesn’t push his opinion on our boys or others. He is humble. He never told them what sport to play, or discouraged them from trying something. He supported their choices with his presence.

As a mom, I don’t always understand what is needed to grow the heart of a man, to shape and mold him into what he needs to be to lead his family, love his wife, work hard to support and protect his family and home. But, my husband does. And, I’m so grateful. Believe me, I’ve learned a great deal about the hearts of men and boys as God has surrounded me with them. In many ways, I’ve taken the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality. But, this girly-girl can only do so much in the land of boy. I’m so grateful we are in this together….so grateful for the gift of dads.

When you drive into Paris Island, (the place where basic training is held for Marines, otherwise known as “boot camp”), there is a sign that says, “We Make Marines”.  A shaping and molding takes place after they spend time there, a proven formula, that transforms young men into Marines. I like to think the same is true for a good dad. Many could put a sign in their own yards: “We Make Honorable Men”. Men who will love and serve Jesus, love their families, work hard, and be good citizens. As parents, we do this job like anything else, imperfectly, filtered through our own weaknesses and sins. But, it’s good to have a goal, a word picture, a standard to rise to. Boys need that. And, so do we. It’s also good to have a road map, a plan. We have God’s Word for that, and we can pray for the wisdom, the strength, the perseverance to parent the way we should. Good dads are strong enough to know when they need to lean on Him.

I’ll never forget, after many years of going to church without my husband, the day when we sat in the church pew together. As he folded his calloused hands to pray, I noticed a very young James look over at him and fold his hands carefully to match. I realized that in all my years of telling about the Lord and reading scripture (all important and necessary and good), that one act from his father, leading by example was just as needed, just as powerful in shaping his life, if not more so than any of my words. Showing sometimes speaks volumes more than telling, especially in the hearts of young men.

 

Expectations and Some Mother’s Day Rebellion

Would it be inappropriate to entitle this post, Mother’s Day….BLECH?

I’m just not feeling it.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of honoring motherhood is a beautiful concept. But, we should honor our mothers everyday. Can I be honest and say that I’m a little weary of the special “days” we set aside for honoring important people in our lives? It is good to spread awareness, to say…”this matters”. The problem, however, lies in the expectations we place on such special days.

We do it at Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…all those days.

It is a special day. It should be perfect. At Christmas, there should be family and warm feelings filling our homes and our hearts. We must cook a certain favorite dish. It must turn out just right. After all, it’s Christmas. Everything must hold to a certain standard….the decorations, the family Christmas picture. Oh the picture! Nothing can mess that up! And, on Mother’s Day, we should be showered with love and gifts. We shouldn’t have to cook. We should be taken care of and everyone should be on their very best behavior. It’s Mother’s Day after all!

When none of it goes as planned, when we behave just like the broken messes we are, and life looks like the broken mess it is every other day, we are disappointed. Feelings are hurt. Instead of feeling loved and honored, we lament over our unmet expectations. Expectations most assuredly make the top ten list of the most dangerous and destructive things to any relationship. They cause us to act the opposite of what love looks like. (If you are unsure what love should look like, please read I Corinthians 13.)

You want to know what my mom used to say in those moments when our expectations weren’t meant and nothing turned out as planned? She would smile and say, “We’re making a memory.” The best memories came, not from days that turned out perfect, but the ones that made us laugh. The times when the leaky pup tent we crammed our family in slid down the muddy hill in the rain. She always made the best lemonade from the lemons of this life. And, believe me, that woman received more lemons from life than most.

If I can be real, since my mother died five years ago, Mother’s Day has lost it’s luster. Mother’s Day and my birthday have been the days when I dread her absence the most, since she made her home in heaven. I am not one that advocates wallowing in grief, wearing it like a “Woe is me” badge of honor. No. I think you should keep dancing, and living, with freedom and grace. We do not grieve as those with no hope. We are filled with the hope and promise of heaven. But the anticipation of those two days leave me with a heaviness that makes me just want to rebel against the status quo….the expectations. I love the little things the boys/men in this house do to make those days special, and I’m grateful for their acts of love. I won’t lie, of course I would be hurt and disappointed if they ignored Mother’s Day or my birthday. I am a woman with a beating heart, living in the United States of America in the year 2012, after all. But, the truth is, inside, I dread those days a bit. I recoil at the sentimental commercials. Blech.

When asked what you’re doing for Mother’s Day, a part of me wants to answer, “hiding in my bed under the covers until it’s over”. I won’t, of course. I wouldn’t do that to the people I love. I will go to church, and smile. I will accept the flowers the church gives out in honor of Mothers and the Right to Life organization, with gratefulness. Who doesn’t like to get flowers? I will hang out with my boys and Tim, eating the Legion chicken barbecue. And, hopefully, no one will notice that I’m a little mad that Mother’s Day has come again, and she isn’t here. I could search the entire earth, and not find my mother to give her the obligatory, sappy card. This year, if I can be so real, you may wonder if I have any business in ministry. As I’m facing so many goodbyes…so many endings to the chapters of motherhood in my own life, as well as her continued screaming absence from every special day, I want to rebel against all of the expectations. I want to run, like Forrest Gump, without stopping. Just run. Or maybe get the back of a motorcycle with my husband, and take off. Some days, I’m tired of the face we put on that says everything is just fine. If I’m honest, most days I’m tired of that face. And, I’m starting to refuse to hide behind it.

It is good to celebrate mothers, and I will do it, as I encourage you to, as well. But, I also will think of the little boys in the classroom who may not see their mothers, or some children I know who will wake up in the same stinky, hopeless mess they do each day, or the children torn because they aren’t sure which mother to give the gift they made in school to, or the ones, like me, whose mothers are in heaven, nowhere to be found on planet Earth. Also tugging heavily at our hearts are the mothers who ache to hold their children. Mother’s Day, another reminder of what they’ve lost, a dream unfulfilled, a prayer answered but not the way they hoped, a heart-broken and filled with longing. Mothers who long to receive the homemade card with the words “I Love You, Mom” scrawled in five-year-old handwriting.

Everyday, we should celebrate the people we love. We should feel every ounce of joy when we can, and we don’t need a label to do it. And, when we feel like running or wallowing, perhaps we can reach out to those around us, carrying their own broken places. We cannot escape the brokenness of this world. I cannot run far enough to escape the brokenness, the goodbyes, or the missing. And, neither can you. But, maybe if we sit together in it for a while, it will feel a little less lonely. Who knows, maybe we can even make some lemonade and laugh in the middle of it all. I’m pretty sure that’s what my mom and Dinah would do, and it sounds like a good plan.

So, this Mother’s Day, I’ll be lifting my glass of lemonade to all moms out there, in every state of brokenness we find ourselves in. Know you are loved, appreciated, you matter, and you are not alone.

More Stuff I Learned From Dinah ~ Being a Student of Husbands & Sons and Getting Out of the Way

I grew up in a household where the mother was in charge. Generations of gritty, strong women pepper the history of my family tree.  My mom wasn’t the type of girl to rely on a man to take care of her. She took care of herself, and was appalled by women that did not. I suppose it was the time she spent learning early on that she was the only person who would not disappoint her, desert her, or break her heart. She was an on again, off again single mother…but even when she was married, she was in charge. She was a tiny, beautiful, 100 pound spitfire of determination, grit, and class. Even when she wore her denim bib overalls and flannel shirt covered in glue to the factory job where she made paint rollers, she had class and the kind of beauty that draws admiration. My first memory of wondering if I would be like her someday is when I was about 7 and she was maybe 25. We were swinging on the swings, and I stretched my legs as far as I could, trying to match her pace. Her thin legs were tan and smooth, and stretched gracefully out further than my little legs. I remember thinking that she was grown up and I wanted to be like her someday. Twenty-five…that seemed to be the perfect age. That was the age of grown up. And my mother was awesome. (More thoughts on that in a later, yet-to-be-written post!)

My own initiation into adulthood brought me to a one bedroom apartment, married to an eighteen year old senior in high school, and the mother of a little boy. I didn’t feel grown up or graceful, like my mother on the swing. In fact, I felt anxiety-ridden and unsure. I was never gritty, and my tendency toward softness, girliness, and the fact that I could never hide my tears when anything grazed the surface of my heart always bewildered my mother. The only real toughness I displayed growing up was the fact that I would kill a spider without blinking to protect my baby brother. I would probably do almost anything to protect my baby brother.

It occurs to me that I’m telling a prologue. Dinah would be so annoyed if she were here. This post really isn’t about my mother. Although, I think a little background helps sometimes. Hence the prologue. Oh great…now I’m explaining the prologue!

Dinah came into my life, early on, when I didn’t have a clue how to be a wife and mother to little boys. I was instantly and instinctively a mom, but the wife thing…and the understanding of the male gender thing…notsomuch. I wanted to be in charge, in control. I wanted to resort to what I knew of watching a wife and mother. You can only really count on yourself. (Men leave, men disappoint.) When Timothy was a baby, our roles seemed pretty natural…what with all the nurturing, nursing, and caregiving a mother is naturally created to do. But, as our oldest boy grew older, it was evident that I must decrease and it was time for the learning-to-be-a-man business that only a strong male role model, like say a father, can teach. I didn’t know how to begin to get out of the way.

It made Dinah, a strong woman in her own right, crazy to watch me stumble along, oblivious to the ways of a man. She would say that I didn’t like men…that I learned that from my mother. I’m not sure if she was right about that. I have always adored and admired men…but maybe I haven’t always respected them. She would ask me how I could know so little about men when I had all those brothers. How could that be?! I’m pretty sure she thought I was a fool. And, I was…at first. But, I learned to become a good student of God’s Word, a student who listened to the wise women of the church, and most of all a student of my husband and son. Dinah taught me about learning to understand my husband, use less words, and get out of the way. But, it was has proven to be a lifelong lesson.

It has been an ongoing battle for me to get out of the way. I would think my husband should parent this way, or it would be better if he had a heart to heart with our boys in the way I thought he should, using lots of words and feelings. I didn’t understand his strong, quiet ways. I wasn’t sure how a dad should fit into a family. I read scripture to our boys, fretted over them, and prayed and guarded them like a fiend. Sometimes to the point where they didn’t hear my words.

Dinah taught me that the goal of parenting a son was to give him a vision of being a man who would protect and provide for his family. A strong man of character and integrity, a godly, courageous man. It takes some grit to survive this world. For some silly reason, I thought it was up to me to give them that vision and grit. Girly, clueless me.

I spent years trying to get out of the way, trying to peel my grip off our oldest son, even as we buried three babies, and my instinct was to hold on tighter to the one that remained…the one that first made me a mother. Even though I’ve learned to let go in many ways, I find, I’m still learning…still holding on some.

Tim took them hunting…with guns and fishing…with hooks. I remember my anxiety and Dinah talking me through it, sternly. Tim and Timothy would sit in the woods for hours, barely speaking a word, in the cold, in the freezing rain and snow… waiting for the elusive deer. Hours of waiting…days…weeks. Then my tender-hearted boy shot his gun and killed a deer, providing meat for our family. I didn’t understand the point of it then. It didn’t seem like they were building anything substantial just sitting there. I would have thought you were crazy if you suggested that they were building a relationship of respect for one another and God’s creation. They were building character, patience, perseverance, courage, integrity, endurance, and the ultimate feeling of providing for a family. No…I had no idea that’s what was going on.

Yesterday, our 10-year-old, James went hunting for the first time and shot his first deer. I noticed the twinkle in his eye when he described his father’s Tiger Woods style fist pump when he shot the deer. A satisfied fist pump from dad is worth more than all the gold in the world. I get that, now. Before he left, I prayed through my what-ifs, and thought about Dinah telling me to be a student of  my husband and sons. I have been a student of them. And, I’ve learned to appreciate their ways, once unnoticed by my foolish eyes, even if it is still hard for this mama-heart to watch her boy walk out into the harsh world with a gun slung on his back. Like Mary, I put those thoughts away to ponder them in my heart…pat my boy on the back on the way out the door, saying simply “You can do it.” And, when he returns from the man-world I don’t understand, a bloodied deer proudly in tow, I will welcome him with pride. These days, I’ll even help them process the meat!

You see, all these years, while I struggled to figure out how to train these boys to be men, in the recesses of my mind still thinking it was up to me, my husband was quietly leading by example. And, his life has spoken louder than any of my striving. It seems that the quiet way Tim chose to do the hard things, to work hard to support our family, to have integrity and courage. The quiet way he taught them through experience and example to protect and provide…without many words at all…has inspired them more than any idea I’ve tried to plant in their hearts. You see, a man with strength and goodness in his heart can inspire a boy to want to do the hard things himself…to overcome the obstacles…to fight the good fight. Just the act of Tim sitting in church on Sunday morning and folding his hands in prayer and the act of getting up everyday to do a back-breaking job without a word of complaint, rushing to the baseball game in boots still covered in mud and concrete… speaks volumes to them about what a man does…what a man looks like. A son will strive to earn the respect of a father who may not even be the greatest example….but a son with a great father, the kind that lives a good, quiet life and honors the Lord…working hard for his family. Well, there is no limit to what is inspired in the heart of a son with a father like that.

Mothers have an important role in the lives of their sons, don’t get me wrong. They need our love and nurturing as keepers of the home. They need us to be their haven from the harsh world, a cheerleader that always believes in them, and a listening ear when they have a hankering every few months or so to share what’s on their minds. Even, every once in awhile, a gentle voice of wisdom (with very few, non-preachy words, of course.) And, most of all a prayer warrior…standing in the gap for them while they go out and fight the good fight. But, I am still in awe of the beauty of the way a dad can inspire a son to be a man, simply by living. Sometimes our part is to pray, and get out of the way.

Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?

 

A Heart Toward Home ~ Encouragment for Moms

I hope the following article is an encouragement to you today. If so, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. There are a lot of demands on women today, and some days, I am exhausted and weary. I need the Lord’s strength daily. Anyway, I just wanted to encourage you, today….whatever demands on your time, however full your schedule, when weariness seeps into your bones, and your mind can’t process one more thing….hold on, dear sister. Hold on…to the truth of God’s word, to the faithfulness of His promises, to the rest He has for your tired body and your weary mind and soul. Press on, hold on, hang in there, and rest on God’s promises for you…

Written By Kelly Gerken

Originally Published in The Women’s Edge Newsletter , used with permission. All rights reserved.

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine; that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love in patience; the older women likewise, that they maybe reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things – that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.~ Titus 2:1-6

This scripture reminds us that it doesn’t always come naturally to us to love our husbands and children, caring for our homes the way God intended us to do. We must be taught these essential skills by the wise women who have lovingly worked as homemakers before us. Through their example we begin to understand the rewards of submitting to our husbands, of faithfully training our children, and of keeping our homes.

The trouble is, there seems to be a great lack of example in this current time. For the sake of liberation, women are buying the lie that there’s something more out there, in droves. Don’t get me wrong, I realize the necessity for a second income in some situations. Many women may have to work outside the home for the only household income. I also understand the temptation to gain a sense of worth that comes from the satisfaction of a job well done and the reward of a pay check. It’s sometimes more satisfying than carting an ungrateful teenager around or changing another dirty diaper.

The point here is not to judge those who must work outside of the home. The point is to realize that whether our full time job is as mother and wife or mother and wife plus, the important question is…which direction is our heart pointed toward?

How much effort do we put toward making a home? Do we put our family’s needs above the priorities and demands of our work, our friends, our me-time? While it’s important to refuel ourselves and nurture our physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental needs so that we can lovingly give to our families out of abundance, we can also get carried away with our own selfishness. It’s essential to keep our priorities in check. My friend Betsy once said, “Me-time is overrated.” And while I love a bit of lunch-with-girlfriends indulgence now and again (and understand the need for it), I have to agree with Betsy.

It’s interesting how we think shirking our responsibilities will bring freedom and happiness when true joy often comes from being poured out and completely willing to give and serve others. One translation of Titus 2:5 uses the words to “be busy at home”. Many of us are stopping at the word “busy.” We have busy down pat…we can talk on the phone, wash the dishes, change a diaper and read email at the same time. We can prepare our presentation, get ready for work, schedule a dentist appointment and pick up five children for baseball practice. These abilities are good and necessary, and they are a way we have been equipped by our Creator for the work we are required to do. But are we just busy, or are we busy making a home? Where is the passion of our hearts?

We must pray for the young mothers to have hearts turned toward home…hearts that nurture and love their children, hearts that want to bring blessing to their husbands, hearts with a vision to make homes a haven for their family. This takes time, commitment, perseverance and training. More experienced wives must take their calling seriously, to come alongside new wives and mothers and train them in the safe-keeping of their families.

This is an art form that must not be lost. For the sake of the future generations of our children and our children’s children, we must turn our hearts toward home, resisting the urge to be pulled away by one more thing…one more worldly idea that offers an empty promise. Beware lest anyone cheat you through the philosophy and empty deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. ~Colossians 2:8

What does it look like to have a heart toward home?

It begins with a balance of our time, energies, goals and desires. First and foremost our will should be in line with God’s will for our lives.

Our priorities should be in this order:

1. To love, serve, please, worship and walk with God.

2. To love, honor, submit, and pray for to our husbands.

3. To love, train, nurture, and pray for our children.

4.To attend, support, pray for and serve in our church family.

5.To meet the demands and pray for for our outside work and/or ministry.

If our priorities are out of order and our time and commitment to them is not in balance, that is a reflection of the attitude of our hearts. We must keep ourselves in check, like the psalmist asking God “Search me , O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Where is the reward for all of this serving you may wonder. I give to my family… I serve and I pray. I discipline my children, and all I get is more disobedience. I love my husband, and he’s tired and cranky after along day at work. I do the laundry…and all I get is more dirty clothes. First of all, I hear you sister, and you’re right. Sometimes there isn’t a whole lot of glory in serving our families. There’s hard work, ungratefulness, cranky days, and more work. The rewards are not immediate, and sometimes are few and far between. But, I know a woman who has seen the hand of God in the lives of her children as a result of serving as their prayer warrior. She not only has seen God work in her own children, but in the lives of an entire community as she weekly, faithfully prays for their school. She may never know this side of heaven all the dangers that these children have been saved from, all the sorrows prevented as a result of her diligent, righteous prayers. What if she had been too busy to pray? What if her heart had been turned away from home?

I know another woman who prayed for ten years for her husband to go to church with her and serve the Lord. She loved him though the gut-wrenching grief of the loss of three out of five children. She loved him when he couldn’t love her back. And she prayed him home when he thought about turning his heart away. Now, he sits beside her every Sunday morning drinking in the truth of Scripture. God has healed all that was broken and given back one hundred fold of joy for every tear that was shed in that marriage. What if she gave up? What if she said, “I don’t need this. There must be something more for me out there.” She would have missed the blessing of her life.

I know what you may be thinking. This is a lot to ask…giving up my selfish “needs” to serve my family. There isn’t much glory in it. The women who’ve remained obedient to this calling, keeping their hearts toward home would tell you that they wouldn’t trade God’s ways of blessing them…His answers to their desperate prayers for any amount of glory and satisfaction that this world has to offer.

When you can’t do it one more minute…when you are tempted to give up and turn your heart away, remember…we serve a God who is able and willing to equip us. He promises to complete the work He has begun in us. All we have to do is trust Him. He knows our needs better than we know ourselves.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.You know my sitting down and my rising up;You understand my thought afar off.And are acquainted with all my ways.For there is not a word on my tongue,But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.You have hedged me behind and before,And laid Your hand upon me.Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.~ Psalm 139:1-6