Grace-filled Motherhood in Action

Have I ever mentioned the number of awesome moms I know? There are moms of littles, in the thick of bedtime battles and tender snuggles, nursing woes and first words. There are the moms homeschooling a whole slew of school-aged kiddos, and doing it excellently. There are the multitasking moms, keeping the home fires burning and working outside the house as well. And there are the moms2; that is, grandmas who take on both the momming and grandmomming gig simultaneously. My hat goes off to all you superwomen.

And the common thing I see with all the solid, Christian ladies? Their parenting is grace-filled. The blessings they pour out on others – without regard for what kind of mood they’re in or who’s deserving that day – is a constant, living lesson in Christ-like character. Gifts like time and attention, patience, second chances, and kind words just flow out of their lives. And if you’re a mom in my life reading this? You may be too humble (or exhausted or frazzled) to imagine it, but I’m talking about and to you.

Hey, I get it; you aren’t perfect. You could hand me a substantial list of mistakes you’ve made and guilt trips you’ve taken in the past twenty-four hours. If compelled under oath in court of law, your husband might even admit that some of that stuff is true. But let me tell you something else: you and I serve a mighty and merciful God. And I’m privileged to see Him using the good and the bad to His glory. Christian Mama, He’s working through you, and yeah, (at times) in spite of you. But your life is permeated with His goodness.

Needless to say, I’m learning a lot from you all. Here are some of my favorite quips from grace-filled parents, from all the folks whom I have the pleasure to walk alongside.

  1. “Let’s try that again.” This is primarily something I hear with moms of littles, but I see it lived out and rephrased by moms of older children, too. I love the grace in giving a second chance; in teaching self-discipline, without necessarily disciplining right away. I’m definitely attempting to use this sentence with my own little, and I’m grateful that God takes a similar tone with me!
  2. “What do you need?” It is so hard to respond to a meltdown like this, particularly if it’s at 4am and you’re night weaning and you know that EVERYONE just needs some SLEEP. And my husband is really good at saying these words (and meaning them). I can attest to the fact that these words are a soothing balm to my own tearful frustrations. Thanks, Matt. Thanks, Mom.
  3. “Things change all the time.” My mother-in-law is something of a Naomi in my life (sans the sickly sons and “call me bitter” bit). This has, many times, been her  comfort to me. Pregnant and barely making ends meet? God’s got it covered; something will open up. Can’t find a place to live? Browse the classifieds again tomorrow. Breastfeeding is difficult and sleep is elusive? Treasure these moments. You’ll have new challenges next month. Moms of adults and grandmas certainly have the gift of perspective.
  4. “We’re making time for date nights.” Having friends that are gracious to their husbands – friends who build up their spouses and actively engage in their marriages – has been invaluable to us as a couple.

Many of you are familiar with Titus 2, where Paul talks about roles of Christian women in the Church and their relationships with one another, the older teaching the younger to “love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” From the bottom of my heart – thank you to each woman in my life putting forth this example to myself and others. It is a tremendous testimony to the power of God’s Word, and a tremendous encouragement to those around you. Y’all are pretty swell.

All right, ladies – with Mother’s Day fast approaching, what are your favourite lessons and quotes from godly moms in your life?

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When Emotional Intimacy Costs Nothing

Several years ago, I had a leadership role at a Christian organization that involved setting up an informal, weekly “Bible study” for other young women. Leadership had separate weekly meetings for the purposes of accountability, encouragement, and prayer requests. To kick off the beginning of a session, a senior member of leadership (another peer) took us all on a weekend retreat to acquaint ourselves with one another and discuss the teaching theme for the coming weeks.

We arrived at a sweet, little vacation cottage on the water that belonged to someone’s older relative. Preparations for sleeping arrangements and dinner commenced immediately, and we enjoyed some light, getting-to-know one another chit-chat as we worked. We’d been on the team for maybe a week, and were still asking after one another’s taste in movies and what states we each grew up in.

Later that evening, we gathered for a time of worship while one of the girls played guitar. We enjoyed an atmosphere of sweet, light-hearted fellowship. Then, as we had been told to come prepared to give our testimonies, a senior member of staff led off by telling her own tempestuous story. And as we continued around the circle, the nature of the sharing changed. It was almost as if through peer pressure, each felt called to give up increasingly personal life details; the sort of heart-tellings you only share with your closest friends or with complete anonymity. I remember the crescendo of emotion, as one girl wept, confessing the details of how she had lost her virginity.

Let me pause to say, I freely admit that I’m an introvert and take a while to open up to people. And I’ve also seen situations where the Holy Spirit has worked marvelously to bring believers together in deep friendships over a short time. But this was not that. This was the sort of dramatized intimacy that crops up at summer camps and retreats, burning up in an instant, if tested. It was like we’d been asked to remove some of our clothes, with leadership offering to go first. And in order to normalize the nakedness (or appear as spiritual as the rest?), one after another we’d removed more layers until we all sat scantily clad (metaphorically speaking) and unsure what to do next, other than cry a bit and congratulate one another on our so-called “realness”.

By the time we got around to me – whose testimony is rather short and definitely not spectacular from a story-telling standpoint – it seemed wrong to leave it at something so comparatively impersonal. Consequently, I felt the need to add some inner struggles I was facing at the time (that were really nobody’s business), and ask for prayer. I recall feeling very uncomfortable at the time and embarrassed about it the next day, but put the matter out of my mind until a few days later when the senior staff member (again, a peer) asked me to lunch. At that meeting, she jumped into a slew of unsolicited direction and advice regarding some of the personal things I had shared, referring to some of it as sin. I was so shocked I couldn’t even be angry right away, but I remember thinking as I sat there, This is so inappropriate. You don’t know anything about my situation. You don’t know me.

I’m sad to say that I could cite at least half a dozen instance where one Christian circle or another has demanded that type of expenditure of me. And having spoken to both men and women with similar experiences, I know it’s not an issue that is limited to a particular gender or age group within the Church. It’s as if our Christian culture has decided that in addition to having drive-through-esque services where we consumers can get our double venti gospel to-go, we’d like to add “value” relationships to the menu. Can we get two prayer partners and a mentor with that? K, thanks.

Please don’t misunderstand; there should be intimacy between Christians. The outside world is supposed to know us by our love for one another. If you’ve been part of a fellowship for a significant length of time and have no life-giving friendships to show for it, you may want to consider that something’s amiss somewhere. But as for these artificial scenarios that call for much with little cost to anyone but you… where is the love in that? Where’s the investment? Where’s the time that builds trust, as you prove to one another that you’re reliable and worthy of trust? Where’s the growth together that should characterize the way onward?

I must ask, particularly if you’re a new believer, please guard your hearts carefully. Other Christians don’t need to know all the details of your history or current situation in order to lift you up in prayer. And if they’re demanding that of you, that should be a red flag. There are many well-meaning, true believers in the world that may jump the gun in the trust department with the intent of being helpful. But I would submit that even with good intentions, this can still be extremely damaging to the sharer if the recipient turns out to have little discretion or fails to follow up on the proffered friendship. And on the darker side, there are definitely folks belonging to the congregation (not the Church) that are predatory in nature. Either way, it is wise to wait and pray for the right friends in the right timeframe and God’s leading to steadily open your heart to others.

One of the many beautiful attributes of God is His desire for us to share our hearts with Him. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8) We can – and should – fully confess our fears and failures, hopes and disappointments, to Him as part of the privilege of sweet fellowship we’re entitled to as sons and daughters of God. As the only One who will never fail or forsake us, He should be our greatest Confidant.

Don’t let the past failures of people put you off from Him; do take time to know people before you offer to share with them what first and foremost belongs to God.

Speaking Life

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it and indulge it will eat its fruit and bear the consequences of their words.” Proverbs 18:21 (Amp)

My sweet boy is 19 months old now. He’s got a range of words he can say – anything from “Daddy” to “lemming”. (Yes, lemming. It’s a book about an owl, but the only page relevant to his life at this moment is the one with the lemming about to be eaten. Go figure.) And as of today, we’ve entered the age of “no”, even to things he actually wants. It just feels good to have the power of rejection on the tip of his tongue, I guess. Gotta flex that strong, independent will.

And my goodness, he is smart. Stinkin’ smart. I learned that on our recent vacation to Maine. Naturally, Matt had much more opportunity to interact with David than he normally does, and I learned a lot just watching them. If Matt wanted David to do something – even if he thought it a little beyond David’s comprehension – he’d get down to David’s level and make eye contact, then explain the expectation. Of course, in my infinite mommy wisdom, borne of many hours of hands on experience, I’d smile and shake my head. Nice try, Daddy; he’s just too young for that. But you know what? Nine times out of ten, our little stinker rose to the occasion. I was floored.

Since then, I’ve been working on communicating better with our son. But, too, I’ve become very aware of what I’m saying around him. Am I speaking life over my son? The Proverbs verse above suggests that my words are seeds which will eventually bear fruit. Just what am I planting? I have to check myself as I retell events regarding his funny misbehavior earlier in the day, directly over his little ears. I must make it a point to speak love, to him and regarding him. I have to mind that I’m setting an example in other ways, too. Ephesians 4:29 says that there should be nothing unwholesome about my talk, but rather it should build others up. Proverbs 31:26, describing the virtuous woman, says that “the law of kindness is in her tongue.” Yeah, there’s more than a little conviction there. What law has been dictating what I say lately? Conceit? Bitterness? Cynicism? Fear? Self-consciousness?

Which leads me back to Proverbs 31:12-13, where the writer describes the virtuous woman’s speech about her husband. It says that she “comforts and encourages” him; that the heart of her husband trusts her; that she doesn’t say anything that would do him harm, but good, all the days of his life. Wow. You hear pastors and speakers giving 30-day challenges, but the Bible doesn’t mess around. Am I speaking life over my husband? Or am I undermining our relationship and God’s plans for him with critical remarks? (Am I doing this to fit in with other wives?)

We had a guest speaker at church this previous Sunday, who offered me this friendly marital advice as we exited the service: reverence my husband. It ruffled my proverbial feathers a little; after all, this guy doesn’t even know me. But nonetheless, the Holy Spirit nudged me. Am I treating my husband with deep respect when I speak of or to him? Not because he’s perfect and I’m a worm. Not even particularly because he’s a man and I’m a woman. Not because of anything short of a scriptural mandate to honor him out of love. (1 Peter 3:1-6) You want to see a marriage transform and good fruit come of it? Plant seeds of respect and kindness now, in faith. I know first hand what the wrong seeds do, but I’ve also seen some pretty stunning examples of godly wives and their families. God is definitely a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Scripture says this is a matter of life and death. It further says that if I’m not bridling my tongue, my religion is worthless. (James 1:26) Did I mention it’s becoming clearer to me lately that God really doesn’t mess around with this? But I can’t delude myself, thinking that I don’t mean the things that I say. Christ Himself taught that “…whatever word comes out of the mouth comes from the heart…” (Matthew 15:18) I don’t just need a bridle on my tongue; I need heart surgery. For the sake of pleasing God, having a credible testimony, and speaking life over my loved ones, I need my heart to be changed from one of carelessness to one of intense, godly discipline. Praise God, we have this promise:

For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13, Amp)

How to be a Missionary Anywhere

Today I have the pleasure of guest posting at Erica Mbasan’s blog. Erica is a missionary to Uganda and author (you can find her lovely books here) who I was blessed to meet online. She writes about her journey as a missionary and offers both insight and encouragement regarding Christian living.

How to be a Missionary Anywhere

Back in February, America experienced a tragedy in the form of another school shooting. Since then, we’ve had additional acts of violence to grieve. But on that particular day, as the media once again exploded with politically charged calls to action, I kept thinking about the 19-year-old who had destroyed other young lives and his troubling record.

I kept thinking, Lord, where were all the Christians in the young man’s life? Did no one reach out to him?

Read the rest here.

Laundry in the Corner, Breadcrumbs on the Floor

There is laundry in the corner
There are breadcrumbs on my floor
And beneath my kitchen table
A sticky little mouth grins

There are bath toys in the bathtub
There are board books on my chair
And clinging to the couch
A diaper-clad bottom bounces

There are lessons in the learning
There are hand prints on my soul
And busily blessing his mama
A chubby pair of hands reaches “ppppp”

When God Slooooooooows You Down

IMG_0573If you’ve spoken to me recently, you probably know that we’re in the middle of a sleep crisis. My sweet baby boy, in spite of being a pretty easy kid in all other aspects, hasn’t slept through the night since day one. And believe you me, it’s not for lack of trying the many schools of thought that exist!

For the last month, about 5+ hours of my day have been tied up in getting and keeping this child asleep. (Note: this does not include the additional time spent nursing and begging him to eat some solids, any solids, please Lord hear this mama’s prayers.) As a result, my to do list has been a little stagnant and my home is looking decidedly lived-in. Right now, we’re staying very close to home as I try for the umpteenth time to establish a set-in-stone nap time, which will supposedly put an end to the nighttime nonsense. There’s an Indian saying, “children tie the mother’s feet,” (more on that in a minute) and I’d always resented the thought. In some arrogance born of premotherhood ignorance, I was sure that I’d do it differently. Yet, here I am, recklessly neglecting chores as my son naps because anything other than typing (in the next room, mind you) is likely to wake the little sleeper.

But the funny thing is, although it’s been frustrating, it’s also been really good. I’ve been strategically placing some Christian living books near the couch (because why would any kid want to enjoy the spacious, memory foam queen bed?) and cuing up Bible reading on my phone. When I curl up with David for a couple of hours (did I mention he doesn’t sleep by himself?), I get my quiet time with the Lord. I may even get to take up some other expedient reading. Midnight wakings become opportunity for prayer, assuming I’m conscious enough. Sometimes I get to nap a little with my son, which is also a huge blessing when we’re still doing 4-5 wakings at night.

But God is slowing me down. I mean, sloooooooowing me down. He has both reins in hand and is leaning against my donkey-stubborn nature, telling me through the pressure of motherly responsibility to find new ways to be still and know this: He is still sovereign and Almighty God. Selah. (Psalm 46:10)

Meditate on that. Soak it up. And in His infinite grace and goodness, provided I daily choose to abide in Him, I am serving Him no less than I ever have. He takes my VERY humble offerings (think diaper changes, people) and counts them as service rendered unto the least of these. The cup of water I get for David or the (fiftieth of the day) clean shirt I help him into is rendered service to Christ Himself (Matthew 25:34-40). If that’s at the forefront of my mind, how can I grow weary in well doing? When we are promised, “…for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9) how can I be discouraged?

We reap not only the temporal reward of the great joys amidst the difficulties of parenthood (Psalm 127:3), nor even just the eternal reward of the treasure God stores up for us in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20); we are promised that as we train up our children in the way they should go, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). By the grace of God, through faith, (Ephesians 2:8) little souls are being added to the kingdom of God. Wow.

Isaiah 40:11 says that our Good Shepherd gently leads those of us with young. Praise God. Ladies, I don’t know about you, but for me in the here-and-now, that is some good news. I feel lately that God wrote Psalm 23 for this season in my life; He’s making me lie down in green pastures (on the couch), leading me beside the still waters (or not-so-still during bath time), and my soul is being restored. I’ve about as much right to complain about that as the Israelites had to complain about gathering mana each morning. (Exodus 16)

Getting back to that quote about children tying up mothers (or something like that)… I think I recall reading it in A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliot, although it originally came from a book called Gold Cord by Amy Carmichael. Ms. Carmichael was a 19th century missionary to India who cared for hundreds of children during her lifetime. She wrote the following as she gave up her traveling ministry to care for little ones:

Children tie the mother’s feet, the Tamils say… We knew we could not be too careful of our children’s earliest years. So we let our feet be tied for the love of Him whose feet were pierced.”

At present, my life is relatively simple; help one little boy and one good man to live healthy, happy, holy lives. This is what Christ has trusted me with for now. I can only assume that things will only get more complex as we continue to grow our family. But whether I’m given one talent or five, I know that I long to hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant…enter in to the joy of the Lord.” (Matthew 25:23) My heart is the determining factor in that:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

However mundane or chaotic your day, take heart: we are serving the Lord Christ. (And incidentally, an early happy Mother’s Day to you.)

Update/afterthought: This post was written over several nap times (mostly on my phone) and edited whilst my dear husband took over bedtime one night. Sleeping is going much better thanks to the prayers of many kind mama friends who know that the struggle is real. But all this to say, if I ever write like I have my life together, remind me that it takes me two weeks to write a few hundred words and that I have a bruise on my leg from that time I was trying to fill out an application and my kid bit me. Then we’ll have a good laugh about ridiculous life circumstances and get back to our (heavenly) business of discipling tiny humans and being discipled ourselves. 🙂

Why Abstinence Matters

“We’re engaged, which means we’re already committed like we’re married.”
“We’d better live together first to make sure we’re compatible enough for marriage. Everyone else is, anyway.”
“I don’t want our first time to be on our wedding night – how awkward would that be?”
“We’re only a couple weeks out from our wedding. It doesn’t matter.”

Coming into my teen years in a Christian, homeschool community, I sat through many a lecture/sermon on abstinence. The topic was covered from a variety of angles on Sunday morning, at the homeschool convention, during youth group, throughout young women’s retreats, and in its fair share of Christian books for teens. I wore my purity ring, kissed dating goodbye, and got all relevant information on men from the most reliable source on the market, For Young Women Only. I abhorred the passion and embraced the purity. My love was true, so darn it all, it was going to wait. And yet (dare I say?), by the time I was getting ready to say “I do”, I could understand why the justifications offered above can suck people in.

Maybe I just missed it as a teen, but as I recall, rarely did any of the resources on “sexual purity” get to the heart of why Scriptural living is paramount. Why it’s worth it to resist the Devil and zealously pursue righteous living. As I found out, sooner or later, even the most sheltered youth come to realize the world is pointing and laughing at our so-called uptight morals and narrow-mindedness. They tell us that we’re missing opportunities to explore and experiment. And folks, I’m here to tell you, Satan is a very convincing liar.

It isn’t enough to teach that sin is only fun for a season. It’s a lie to say it isn’t fun at all – and if you tell that lie, it will make for distrust that goes beyond this single topic. It isn’t enough to lay out natural, physical consequences for disregarding God’s rules for sex. Sure, you could get pregnant or contract an STD or your parents/church/community could find out and disown you. But none of that is the point.

There’s only one consequence worth teaching about and we can be sure of its happening 100% of the time, as the result of any sin. When we disobey God’s law, we damage our relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.

When you live outside of biblical boundaries, you not only grieve the Holy Spirit indwelling you, (Ephesians 4:17-32) but you render your prayer life ineffective. Yes, sin does that! (Psalm 66:16-19) And the worst part is, the sweet, thrilling fellowship we enjoy with Christ cannot be as it was intended. 1 John 1:5-7 reads as follows:

This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

The passage has both the bad news and the good news. You can’t walk in darkness and fellowship with God. But the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin and so we need not walk in darkness any more.

It takes courage to say no – especially to someone you love. It takes courage to treat sex as a holy part of marriage, rather than the casual, physical pleasure the world presents it as. But Christ calls and equips Christians to live differently.

As a married woman, I’ve got news for you: nothing is as crippling to your relationship with your spouse as having a half-hearted relationship with Christ. Whether you’re making plans to walk down the aisle a few weeks from now or you’ve only been on a few dates, let your love be God-honoring so that whatever comes of it, you have drawn closer to the Lord as the result of having been in the company of one another.

I write this because my heart is for other Christians (other young Christians, especially) to know God personally and deeply. And I am so tired of seeing Satan ruin lives under the guise of romance, using Christians to do his dirty work, laming other Christians so that they cannot run the race set before them. (Hebrews 12:1) But God promises to chastise us, “that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:13)

Don’t buy into the lie that because your sin is already forgiven it doesn’t affect your walk with God. Repent. Draw near to Him and experience His tender mercy and lovingkindness and sin no more.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)