from EVERYTHING to ONE THING

Kids need routine.  Schoolwork must be done. Your work must be done. We’re supposed to stay healthy. You know exercise and eat well. We need clothes to wear. Those last things require lots of things, shopping, cooking, drive-thru, dishes, and laundry. We do all the things while life continues to be different to say the least.

All the things can undo you.

I called a friend to sing “Happy Birthday” the other day. I couldn’t remember the tune. I sing that song six times a year to my immediate family alone. Not to mention all the friends and extended family. I sat and thought. In that moment, I couldn’t recall how to sing “Happy Birthday” for anything.

I had no idea how distracted I was by daily life.

The coronavirus pandemic up-ended life abruptly. The circumstances invited us to problem-solve and adjust quickly, often with less support and resources. Many I talk with never found their footing or just did, and now daily life changes all over again with summer around the corner. Summer without neighborhood pools, summer camps, and more.

It’s not just adults who are impacted. My six-year-old cried and kicked the other night as I sang the bedtime songs. “It’s not fair. I don’t get to play with my friends. The pool is closed. It’s too cold to go to the creek. You just don’t understand how hard it is,” he bemoaned.

If we’re honest. EVERYTHING feels hard, wearisome, and unending for each of us from time to time right now. The anger many experience lately screams at all the loss. Grief does that.

EVERYTHING can break us. The load we burden ourselves with, the things we decide we must do or the ways we think we must do them. It’s even worse, when we have no idea how to do any of it.

Jesus knows. He offers us aid and freedom.

Abstract art is a hobby of mine. There is one exercise I used to do often. Just draw with your eyes closed. Don’t lift your pencil, marker, or pen. Just keep going until you decide to stop. Then look and see what’s there. Triangles. Circles. Arches. All kinds of things start to catch your eye.

One day, while doing this exercise, I found myself in the midst of the lines. There I was loaded down with EVERYTHING life had handed me, but I was filled with joy. I was carrying it, seemingly skipping along with EVERYTHING in my hands, because I was carried by, surrounded by Jesus.

“You can carry EVERYTHING because I’ve got you. Will you let me be your ONE THING? I want to be your strength, support, teacher, aid, comfort, EVERYTHING you need. Take my yoke it is easy and light. I will carry the weight, lead you, and teach you. The joy you see can be yours,” Jesus whispered to my weary soul.

EVERYTHING changed in that moment for me. The load I carried remained, but I shifted my focus from my load to the ONE carrying me. Jesus became my EVERYTHING in a way I had never known.

A friend asked me a couple years later, “How many people can I carry?” as life demanded she care for a parent, who had moved in, and her two young kids while pregnant and working full-time.

“As many as God asks you to when you let Him carry you,” I replied in tears.

I knew the feeling of finiteness, not having enough to give.

A full-blown anxiety attack that looked like paralysis when the fear of caring for our kids by myself was too much.

I felt like I might come apart at the seams when we moved into our new home with a two-month old. I homeschooled the three oldest, kept the two youngest alive, and supported a kid who came undone daily with physical and emotional outbursts all on very little sleep.

I hit the wall again after my dad died. About six months after his memorial service, my body freaked out from the load and stress of a three-year roller coaster with lung cancer.

I learned something each time I hit the wall. I’m slow. I had to learn it again and again. I’m still learning it.

“In our weakness, His strength is made known.”

Jesus knows how hard life is here. He came and dwelled among us.

Jesus is not far from us now. He is with us. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be our comfort, teacher, and aid in all things. He offers us His yoke again and again. Oh, how Jesus wants us to be free from the burden of EVERYTHING we carry!

Friends, sharing the load with Jesus changes EVERYTHING. He carries the brunt and leads the way. He does the work. We learn from Him and He grows us up as He leads. We find life to the fullest like He made us for, even when it looks like the weight of the world just might overtake us.

Hard times expose our need. The coronavirus pandemic has definitely exposed some ugly things at our house, in my heart. We are finite, weak, and need aid for all things.

The good news?  That’s exactly who Jesus wants to be for you and me.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-29

May we each welcome Jesus in a new way to be our ONE THING, our yoke, so EVERYTHING doesn’t undo us. Instead, we will find rest for your souls. He will grow us up in His image in ways we could never imagine.

Come sweet Jesus. Help us take Your yoke and learn from You. You are gentle and humble. We want rest from EVERYTHING. You alone are our ONE THING.

from FAIL to WIN

Kids are home. Few adults have the same workload they had weeks ago. Business is not as usual. We all feel it.

If you have kids, your parenting has been impacted too. I feel stretched to my limits and maybe beyond them. I wish I could say we have been thriving at my house, but I’ve had more parent-fails than not.

Friends. Let’s be honest. Parenting is hard. Things aren’t easier with the kids home, schedules changed, and social distancing.

We’re wrapping up week five here. I’m just now getting my feet under me. With five kids from ages 15 to 6, I do not have a fixed routine, but a rhythm that shapes my day. And that’s okay.

My kids argue with me. Normal. The past two weeks, I joined their arguing. Sometimes, I got smart, saw the mistake I made, and disengaged. BUT when I didn’t, I blamed them for arguing, doled out thoughtless consequences, and the whole thing ended with all of us frustrated.

I knew I needed to walk away and “Take 5” like I advise the parents I parent coach. Instead, I just shifted to the next thing in hopes it would go better. Sound familiar?

The parent-fails are real.

In the name of Jesus, the parent-fails can become parent-wins.

Every time we fail, things can be made right. That’s how it works in the Kingdom of God.

Confession, repentance, and forgiveness are wins for those who declare Jesus is Lord.

Confession. You name your sin to God and, if relevant, the one you sinned against. Repentance. You turn away from your sin toward life. Forgiveness. You forgive the one who sinned against you and/or forgive yourself.

Jesus forgives us our sins and leads us to life. When He cried out from the cross, “It is finished” that meant for you and me. Nothing is too great or small to be forgiven.

For years, the thoughts that raced through my mind, moved me to confession every single day and often repeatedly. Everyone said what a great mom I was. It looked great on the outside, but I knew better. I knew I needed Jesus to have mercy on me and change my heart.

“Lord have mercy on me a sinner,” became my daily cry. It was confession and repentance rolled into one for me.

Jesus carried me and had mercy on me a sinner as I offered Him my confession and heart again and again. He forgave me every single time. He did a great work in me.

People have said for you years, “You have five kids…and all boys. You have your hands full!” I never really felt that, but I do now!

Disappointment and frustration have been common responses to life for all of us here. Almost everything changed on a dime when no one expected it. “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” has been my cry again these past few weeks.

I have added to my prayer, “Create in a pure heart. Renew a right spirit in me.”

Confession, repentance, and forgiveness with Jesus and one another allow us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

Through our parent-fails, Jesus invites us to victory in His name. Friends, that is always a win.

Jesus, You are ours and we are Yours. Help us live more fully into that reality. Oh, how we need you!

from BAD MOMENT to GOOD DAY

Kids melt-down while shopping.

You yell at the kids.

Teenagers have temper tantrums.

Everyone has bad moments.

On days when the kids are home all day, some mornings are rough. The hardest part is you still have the rest of the day ahead. If nothing changes, a bad morning becomes a long bad day.

One day like that, I tried something new.

“We’ve had a bad morning, but we can still have a good day.”

Soon after one of the kids prayed this prayer often. “Jesus, we didn’t have a good morning, but thank you it was a good day.”

When my dad was dying, lung cancer, I had a lot of bad moments.

I remember an errand to Dollar General. I don’t know which kids were with me, but it was at least three. I don’t remember what happened, but I’ll never forget the cashier looking at me with raised eyebrows like so many had before,

“Hope you have a better day.” All she saw was the moment with squirrel-ly young kids done with the errand.

“Oh this. This is just a moment. We’ll have a good day,” I replied.

She was surprised, “Yeah. It is just a moment.”

“Just a moment” is a game changer.

Bad moments happen to all of us. A moment. Five minutes, one hour, or even hours, do not have to define our day.

There are days when you just hope things don’t get worse. I’ve had days like that, but those are the exception, not the rule.

You have a bad moment. Deal with the moment.

  • Name it for what it is. No silver lining. Just what it is.
  • Address any responsibility you have for it.
  • Confession if you sinned.
  • Forgiveness given or received as needed.

Confession and forgiveness set us free from the condemnation of our own expectations to perform, to get it right. They open us up to the empowered grace of God.

  • Live into the reality Jesus spoke on the cross, “It is finished.”
  • Then move on. Shift gears with Jesus.

It’s a change. Change isn’t smooth or seamless. It’s jagged and messy, but so worth it and His grace carries us through it.

Next time you have a bad moment, shift gears with Jesus. Ask Him for a good day in your mind and heart.

Walk with Him from bad moment to good day. It’s a game-changer friends. It’s empowered grace, not expected performance.

Jesus, oh how we need you to save us from bad moments! We want to live into the joy and freedom You have for us. Help us shift gears from bad moment to good day.

from BETTER to INTENTIONAL

When the boys were little, anxiety consumed me. My anxiety controlled us all.  A low-dose prescription and counselling helped, but they were simply tools that made space for me to do good work in my daily life.  I wanted it to be better, so I had to be intentional.

I needed more space to learn how to respond and not react to life. My goal was to love well, not sin against those I loved out of my hurt.

In my daily life, I eliminated anything that hindered my ability to love well.

Cloth diapers, making my own yogurt, even church stuff during the week. It was all good stuff, but it was not best. Acts of love toward my children and husband were best. I created more space in my life as I eliminated things.

It took time to learn how to respond to life instead of react. Often it felt like I was getting nowhere, but then there would be a shift. Something would be “better” because I decided to be intentional.

My daily prayer then, “You are mine. I am Yours. Help me live in that reality Jesus.” And He did.

Being intentional does not just happen. It is a process.

1.  Cry out to Jesus. Name the need and ask for help.

Most people see me as capable, confident, and together. The truth is I beg Jesus for help all the time. I’ve learned to lean into Him because when I don’t, it is ugly. Ask my kids.

2.  Observe and reflect.

Pay attention to specific things relevant to the need for “better.” Questions help at this stage. What needs to change? How can I create change? What steps must be taken for that change? How long might it take? Why is change really needed? Do my answers line up with how I feel or what is real?

3.  Make a plan.

Put your observations and answers to your questions into a plan. This part can be the trickiest. Write it down. Do one thing at a time. Change is a slow-and-steady win the race kind of thing when we’re making new habits and routines, especially when your change effects others.

4. Surround yourself with support.

Friends have walked with me through countless changes and growth. Other times I have sought the help of a counselor and/or other professionals. You do not have do life alone. I am now working one-one-one with others as a life coach. That may be support you need.

5. Embrace the process.

Take action. Begin your plan, day by day, moment by moment. Expect fails and setbacks. It is a process. Be kind to yourself. Remember the goal is not your expected performance, but Jesus’ empowered grace. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Jesus can see things we can’t see. Jesus can change things we can’t change.

Revealed need for change is an opportunity for us to grow up in Christ.

We can make things look better. We can’t make ourselves better. Jesus can.

Jesus grows us up by the Holy Spirit from one level of glory to the next with our every, “Yes, Lord I want you to grow me up through this.”

This is huge because it becomes less about us and more about Him.

Him in us, with us, and for us. It becomes grace upon grace day by day.

Whenever I say to myself, “There must be a better way,” I know it’s time to be intentional.

Nothing just gets better. HOW I WISH IT DID! It takes work. Paul tells us we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. When we walk with Jesus by His Spirit, He carries the weight of that work and leads us into “better” with His intentional love and grace we as say “yes, Lord,” with our lives and hearts through the choice to be changed.

Better is well intended. Intentional leads to better.

Where do you long for “better”?

Turn your eyes toward Jesus.

Lay down the burden of your performance friend.

Embrace His grace to empower change.

Be intentional. Pray for help. Observe and reflect to discover the need. Pray some more and make a plan. Surround yourself with support. Put the plan into action until you experience change. The kind of change that let’s you say, “Yes, this is better.”

It might be days, weeks, months, years. It’s not the time that matters. It’s the opportunity to grow up in Christ. He is worth it. You are worth it.

Until then, maybe one of my favorite prayers will be a gift to you.

“You are mine. I am Yours. Help me live in that reality Jesus.”

I’m confident He will do just that.

from QUIT to START AGAIN

I had coffee with a neighbor late last year. He’s a cartoonist and author. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner. I told him how too often I quit before I really get started with my work.

“We all do that,” he immediately replied.

“Yeah,” I thought to myself.

Sometimes we just need to be reminded. We quit, but we can start again.

It’s the first of the year. You’ve got goals, dreams. Maybe not “resolutions,” but hopes. I say often to myself and the kids, “His mercies are new everyday.” But there is something about a new year that highlights our hope within.

You want to lose weight. You eat that last extravagant meal before you start.

You want to limit screen time, so you binge watch one last series.

Last fall, my five kids were in four schools. I joined non-profit board. A ministry I oversee at church required a new level of commitment. My fullest speaking schedule ever had just wrapped up. A newly formed advisory council was ready to invest into this ministry.

Our first meeting was the next day.

I panicked.

I decided to call each one and cancel the meeting. Dissolve the ministry.

My schedule for 2020 was not filling up. My book had reviews, but had not “found its place.” I couldn’t do all the things. The answer? Quit. Shut down this ministry before the advisory council ever met.

Funny thing. I never got around to calling them. We met and the ministry found new life. One week later, my first podcast interview was booked and a whole list of blog ideas were outlined.

The fullness of life overwhelmed in a moment. Things weren’t what I expected them to be on my timeline, so I had been ready to quit. I shared this with my advisory council.

“We’re glad you didn’t. You dont’ have to carry this alone anymore,” they said.

I had carried this ministry for nearly four years all alone. I “quit” lots of times in all kinds of ways. I always started again.

You may feel like you carry your life, work, and parenting alone or without enough support.

Maybe like me, your perspective gets skewed. Your expectations of what and when are not met, so you quit. It nags and haunts you. What do you do?

Ask Jesus for help and insight.

Ask others who know you for feedback, a friend or two.

Listen. Pray.

Discern what is good and right for you. Let the thing fall to the wayside and move on with peace OR pick it up and start again. This time in His grace.

What does is it look like to start again in His grace?

The motive shifts from “I’ll get it right this time” to “This is good and right. Help me do it Jesus.”

Jesus is always with us and for us, ready to help. That is why we can start again any good thing that brings life.

Today. Tomorrow. Whenever you are ready to take the risk.

And yes, it is a risk. I get it. You could quit again or worse, fail. But I’m convinced it’s worth it because risks require faith. When we walk with Jesus by faith, we can only grow in Him no matter what the outcome looks like.

What is the thing you think you may start again? Lift it to Jesus and follow His lead.

Jesus, help us live into this risk to lay it down or start again not out of our own strength, but Yours. We want to do this by Your empowered grace not our own expected performance. Give us victory. You are our God. We are Your people. Help us live into that reality. Oh, how we need You!

 

I was supposed to…

Life has a way of re-writing our script. Kids get sick with no warning. Meetings are cancelled. Event schedules change, and we find ourselves saying, “I was supposed to…”

My life for the past 20+ years as been filled with “I was supposed to…”

I was supposed to be a geophysicist. I discontinued the program and began my journey into vocational ministry.

I was supposed to graduate from seminary a single-woman and work on staff at a large church. I got married and never left town.

I was supposed to go to work once the kids went to school. I homeschooled for six years.

I was supposed to write a blog weekly. I played games with my youngest as I heard the Lord whisper to my heart, “Enjoy him. He won’t be here much longer.”

Each time I thought I was “supposed to,” the Lord surprised me with another opportunity.

Abram was supposed to stay in Ur and run the family business. He loaded up and journeyed to a place the Lord would show him instead. He wandered over foreign soil for decades because the Lord surprised him with a promise, land and more kids and grandkids than he could count. It was a promise that looked like it may never be fulfilled. Finally, by 100 he had two kids. One he had sent off into the wilderness and another he would be asked to sacrifice to measure his faith.

“I was supposed to” so often seems like, looks like, and especially feels like God taking something from us or toying with us to test our faith. But that is not the heart of God.

“I was supposed to” is an opportunity to live into the reality that we are not our own. Jesus is Lord. This is our confession as children of God. When Jesus is Lord, He is ours and we are His. He is never taking something from us, never toying with our faith. Instead, He is always offering us the fullness of life He alone can give. He is always for us, never against us. His heart is victory for each one of us, so He invites us to live more and more in Him because He alone brings us life and freedom. When we declare “Jesus is Lord,” He invites us live into every “supposed to” He has for you and me.

So we walk by faith declaring, “I was supposed to….but the Lord surprised me with something even greater.”

“Different Families, Different Rules.”

Years ago, I heard a mom say, “Time to empty out.” Her son went to the bathroom without event. With those four-words, ended the whole “Go to the bathroom. But I don’t have to” battle. I explained one time, “Your bladder can hold A LOT of pee, it’s time to empty out.” Soon the older kids, we’re teaching the younger ones.

“Different families, different rules,” are four-words that have changed our family life. With five kids, I say “no” a lot. Our kindergartener will still fall-out on the floor in full-body tantrum some days. And have you ever seen a middle-school tantrum? It’s not pretty.

“No,” can make me the bad-guy. I can handle that, when necessary, but it’s not always necessary. The answer “no” can often be replaced with a simple explanation, “Different families, different rules.”

Parents and kids know families live differently. The movies we watch, the places we go, the way we parent, the things we buy. “Different families, different rules” ends the whole “Why do they get to, but we don’t?” discussion.

Some families drink soda daily. We drink it with pizza, when we go out-to-eat once a month, and at parties. We have friends who don’t drink soda at all. Why? That’s their family practice. “Different families, different rules.” No one is the bad guy. Not you. Not the other family. The rule is just the rule.

“Different families, different rules,” does two other powerful things. One, kids and parents often unknowingly elevate their family’s practices over another family.  “Different families, different rules” encourages us to honor our own family’s practices and other families at the same time. Two, it makes us, the parents and the kids, a team. Rather than pitting us against our kids, “different families, different rules” encourages our kids to embrace our family practices for themselves.

Just yesterday, the boys wanted a kid to play with them. He wasn’t allowed to leave the bleachers, “Different families, different rules. Go play,” I said. “What did you say?” an older child asked. I repeated myself. She smiled a big smile, “I’ve never heard that.” “You like it?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said and looked at her mom. It made so much sense to her without any explanation. That’s what makes those words powerful. Kids understand them and will embrace them.

“Different families, different rules.” Try it. I’d love to hear how it works for you.

Keep Playing.

“This game is hard,” declared my four-year-old.

“It is,” I replied as he put more cherries back on his tree.

One off. One back on. Only one left and then your bucket gets knocked over. It’s not easy filling your bucket in the game Hi-Ho-Cherry-O.

Sometimes life is hard. Lately my “bucket” keeps getting knocked over.

We have had several unexpected healthcare expenses. Sick visits. An ER visit. Four required well-visits. We are part of a health share, and it is a HUGE gift, but shared medical expenses must meet certain criteria. Even with medical shares, we sometimes carry expenses until the need is refunded. We had to pull out savings, but at least we had it.

It seemed we were just on the other side, the bucket was back on the ground upright. We had a plan to fill it back up. Then one of the kids put something in his ear. The pediatrician referred us to the ENT. It will be at least $300. More if they must vacuum it out instead of use forceps. Can you say empty bucket?

We have a gravel driveway, but right now it is more like a mud-pit with some gravel. I thought we might fix that this winter. Instead we are saving for a new oven because after only four years of use ours has begun to die a slow death.

My young son’s words ring in my ears, “This game is hard.”

The way he said it encouraged me. He didn’t throw a fit. He didn’t quit in anger or disgust. He simply stated the fact and kept playing the game. Even when he lost, he just shrugged his shoulders, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. That’s how it works, right, momma?”

It’s been a winter when our bucket keeps getting emptied. But, in life, a hard winter is nothing compared to a great year. I’ve had hard years – anxiety, struggling kids, the loss of a parent, marital strife, and postpartum depression to name a few. Even those years do not make-up the fullness of life.

In the kingdom of God, all of us, who have put on Christ, win in the end. Keep playing. Throw a fit if you must. Life is hard, but one day our buckets will be overflowing.

AN UNEXPECTED KINDNESS.

The week before Christmas I took the boys shopping. I needed tape and wrapping paper. They needed gifts for one another.

The three big boys were given free reign of Tuesday Morning. The two littles and I roamed around.

On one aisle we met a kind lady. She smiled at the excitement of my energetic boys and our adventure. It was hectic, but wonderful. She had raised seven kids, and delighted in the memories we brought her. She was lovely.

As we walked on she said, “I think you’re great!”

“You met us on a really good day,” I playfully replied.

She smiled. She understood. Some days we parent well. Some days not so much.

The outing declined with the two littles falling apart and a confused cashier as we juggled concealed purchases.

I beamed through it all because of an unexpected kindness.

That morning, I received kindness, but I love to give it too.

In the grocery a young child, who follows instruction, will hear from me, “You listen so well!” The child beams. The parent looks at me with that look that says, “Yeah, that time.” Weariness can undo the best of us parents.

“She listened that time. You’re doing a lot of things well. Keep it up. Around five is gets easier if you’re even mostly consistent,” I reply.

Almost always, the weariness lifts with the hope that it will not always be so hard.

The unexpected kindness of being seen, celebrated, and encouraged lifts them a little higher.

I have also been in the store when my kids don’t listen so well. One day when my dad was so sick, and I was more spent than I knew, the cashier smiled and said, “Your kids are always so well-behaved.”

“What?” I replied.

“Your kids are just great,” she answered.

“Could you say that one more time? It’s been a REALLY hard day,” I shamefully responded.

She smiled. I smiled. My kids were not their best selves. I was not my best self. Instead of getting lost in that low moment, an unexpected kindness lifted me higher.

From the daily grind and a bad moment to hard seasons in life, an unexpected kindness can help us not grow weary in doing good.

Let’s encourage one another. When you see a parent victory, great or small, tell them. Your unexpected kindness will make their day. It will probably be a gift to you too.