Thursday, October 19, 2017

When Parenting is Tough, Try These 4 Things

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. 

But, you know that don’t you.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this post right now.  You read the title and thought, “Heck yes, parenting is tough!” So, let me say this to you right now. Solidarity, sister (or brother)!  We both know parenting is the best job in the world, but it’s also a butt-kicker. 

As awesome as it is to be a parent, it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 

It’s funny to say this has been a difficult week, because who am I kidding, it’s all been various stages of difficult.  When my kids were infants, I wondered if I would ever sleep again. (Side note to new moms - although elusive now, sleep does return…eventually.) Then came the toddler and preschool years, where my kids were funny, sweet, darlings who probably thought their names were “No” and “Stop that.” Now we are at the age where both kids are growing into their unique personalities.  They’re hilarious, mean, smart, gentle, hostile, joyful, tearful, soft, loud and a million other things in between. 

If you’re having a tough day, week, or year, here are some things that might help:

1. Pray and then pray some more.

Prayer shouldn’t be a when-all-else-fails life preserver.  Prayer should be our go-to everyday, regardless of the attitude of ourselves and our children.  Here’s the thing. We shouldn’t be living in survival mode when it comes to parenting.  Instead we should be training our hearts and minds, and working on our relationship with our Savior. When we come to God in prayer each day we work on our relationship with Him.  We surrender our time to Him.  We allow Him to work in us.  Our devotion to God and time with Him allows us to abide in Him, bear good fruit, and really live out the fruits of the Spirit. 

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. (John 15:4)

I need you to know that I am far from perfect in this area.  My time studying the Word and reading books far outweighs the time I spend with Him in prayer. And you know what? It really shows.  If I spend time with Him, I am more patient and better able to handle what is thrown at me that day.  But if I neglect that area of my relationship with Him, I get suffocated by the cares of life.  Prayer is key to me being a more effective, more loving mom.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4:2)

2. Be Present

Did you know I’m the meanest mom ever? It’s true, just ask my daughter. But guess what?  I’m only the meanest mom ever because I care about parenting my kids.  Being present means being around and available to praise them, but it also means allowing my kids to receive the consequences of poor choices. Being present means listening to them and spending quality time with them.  It means letting them tell me stories, letting them hold my hand, letting them snuggle up in my lap. It also means talking them through sad days and letting them vent when angry.  And disciplining them when needed to help them grow up to be better, more well-rounded adults. My kids would choose time with me over their favorite thing any day because, at the end of the day, all they really want is to be loved and feel like they matter.

Let all you do be done in love. (I Corinthians 16:14)

3. Say Yes

You know what word I say too much?  No.  Most of the time it’s warranted:

No, you cannot raise tadpoles in the living room.

No, you cannot wear your Halloween costume to school.

No, you can’t eat suckers for breakfast.

No is a popular word around here.

Truthfully, there are many times I say no out of laziness. If I’m in the middle of an enjoyable book, I don’t want to supervise an activity that involves paint, glue, or glitter. Sometimes, I don’t want to stop in the middle of loading the dishwasher to look at the eleventh block tower my son has built that day.

Whether it’s in the middle of being lazy or doing work, what does it hurt to take five minutes to say yes? Sometimes it only takes 30 seconds.  Sure, you had to stop what you were doing, but it’s totally worth it to create memories, see the look of pride spread over your child at your admiration of his or her creation, or just be part of a small, but special moment.

4. Remember their Uniqueness

Each of my kids has their own special personality.  I remind myself of this often.

Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated if they’re not conforming to who I think they should be.  It is my job to teach, love, guide, and discipline, but it's not my job to choose who they are as people. Being a parent is a very important job because you walk the line between raising them to be kind, well-functioning members of society and controlling them so much they turn into little robots (or worse…Pharisees. Yikes!). It’s a precarious balance that only God can guide (refer back to #1).

Let’s face it, not all our child’s personality traits are perfect.  That’s why we need to wisely guide them to use their powers for good.  Think about the Incredible Hulk (yes, I’m referencing superheroes).  Whenever Bruce Banner got angry he would lose it and Hulk out, but he ended up using his powers for good and became an Avenger.  You too can harness the unique personality traits of your children and help them use those traits for good. Bossy kids will grow up to be disliked, or even feared, but a bossy kid with the right guidance can be an effective leader.  Parents can help a sensitive child who gets easily upset learn to use that sensitivity to love others with empathy.  Think about your own child.  How can you help them think differently about the unique way they were made?

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Parenting is tough, but remember you were given your child, or children, for a reason.  You have the awesome responsibility to love them, lead them, be present, and show them what it means to follow Christ. You can do this!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Autumn is a Season Perfect for Hospitality: Gather Your Friends and Family

There’s just something about autumn.

I can try to describe it with words like crisp, colorful, and cozy, but really fall is something that must be experienced to remember why it’s so special.  The smell in the air is different. The trees light up in blazing colors of red and orange.  The wind becomes fiercer and brings with it a coldness that sends shivers through bodies wrapped in flannels and scarves.

The season begs for bonfires, hot soup and warm bread, snuggling under cozy blankets, and gathering with family and friends.

Gathering. That’s my favorite part of autumn. 

When I was in college, I started meeting with a small group for the first time in the fall. This group was led by an incredible woman named Amy who brought us in for bible studies, hosted seasonal parties and wedding showers, and would gather us around her kitchen table for tea and conversation.  Her home was always open to us. Every fall I remember my time in my college small group, both for the sense of belonging created there, and because autumn is always a reminder of Amy’s unexpected passing.  Her death left a desire in me to open my home to love others like she loved me.

Recently, my family moved into our new home.  When we bought our land and built our house, our goal was to create a space where our family could thrive, but our hope was also to make it a place where people would want to gather. A place where they would want to sit outside on cool evenings watching a fire dance. A home where they would feel comfortable pulling a chair up to the table.  A porch where they would sit for hours.

Based on what I just told you, you could assume I’m great at this whole hospitality thing. Really, I’m good at a lot of things, but hospitality is not one of my strengths. I don’t cook because my family likes to eat meals that taste good.  My house is never spotless; there’s always a pile of papers on the island, clothes on the laundry room floor, or dishes in the sink.  Currently, there’s a path of muddy dog prints from the back door, through the kitchen, to my master bedroom that have been there for three days now. No lie.

In the past, this kept me from opening my home to others. I so desperately wanted, like Amy, to create an open home, but it was embarrassing to think people would enter my house and see all the ways I fell short. I kept walls up and doors closed, figuratively and literally.

But not now.  God has been using His Word to stir up a desire to swing my doors and my heart wide open. 

Throughout the New Testament we read stories of people gathering in homes and around tables. The early church made a point to function as a close community, to create a place of belonging.  Isn’t that what all Christians are called to?  The greatest commandment tells us to love God and love people.  And what better way to love people and live out our faith than to open our home and our lives to others. 

People don’t come into our lives because we have it all together.  Truth is, not one person walking this earth has it all together. It’s about time we take off our masks and start being genuine.  Embrace your imperfections because that’s what creates comfort and comradery.  Imperfect people seek out other imperfect people to do life together.

Life is busy and fast and hectic, but we only get one life to live. In this one imperfect life, we have the opportunity to leave a legacy of love.  As James 1: 22 (ESV) reminds us, we get to “be doers of the word and not hearers only.”

As the leaves change and the air turns crisp, may we have the courage to overlook our imperfect lives and bust our doors wide open. And may God remind us this is a beautiful season to gather and create belonging.                                                                                                      

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Enemy is Prowling: Three Ways to Keep from Being Devoured

Why did you even come?  They already have their friend group.  There's no room for you.

You have nothing of value to say, and even if you did, you would just sound stupid.

See?  They’re not interested in talking to you. They’re not interested in you at all.

Insecurity is a vicious feeling that festers in the mind and heart.  It will eat you alive.  It builds walls between us and keeps friendships from moving forward.  It causes relationships to sit idle and dead like stagnant water.

In the past month, I dealt with deafening thoughts of insecurity that threatened to immobilize me. I felt burdened at work, home, and church.

Thankfully, God’s truth is stronger than the enemy’s attacks and I realized something was not right.  I stepped out in faith and you know what I found?  I was not alone. Other women in my life were transparent about their own struggles.  All of us felt that sting of insecurity and realized it wasn’t a coincidence.

Here’s the thing.  The enemy will do everything in his power to keep us separated.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  1 Peter 5:8

Be on guard, friends. The devil is prowling.

It’s no coincidence two of my sweet friends quoted 1 Peter 5:8 to me this past week.  I also know it’s not an accident they both described the hunting patterns of lions to illustrate the same point. Lions don’t attack a whole herd. Instead, they look for the stragglers; the ones separated from their group. 

Isn’t that so fitting?  It makes perfect sense the devil would want to keep us separated from our community.  Of course he would want to make us feel like we don’t have a place.  We’re much easier to devour.

So, friends, how do we combat those feelings of insecurity that make us want to shy away from companionship and community?  Relationships are the key. 

1. Pursue an active prayer life.

Spending quality time with someone is the best way to get to know them.  The same is true in our relationship with our Creator. When we dedicate time in our day to be alone with God, both in talking to Him and listening, our relationship with Him strengthens. James 4:8 says if you draw near to God, He will draw near to you.

2. Keep active in a community of believers.

The enemy wants you lonely and alone.  He wants to convince you that you don’t matter, that you have nothing to offer, and that no one wants you.  His goal is to break you away from your support system.  

Don’t let him! 

If you feel like building a wall around yourself, that’s a great indicator to build a bridge instead.  Reach out to those around you and keep showing up. Be honest about your struggles because there's always another woman feeling the same way. I promise, it’s worth it.

3. Fill your life with truth.

If you want to have a better understanding of God’s character, look no further than the Word.  It is filled with truth we can preach to ourselves when the enemy starts prowling. 

The other night in church, small coincidences had me doubting friendships and my place in my church family.  The devil was hurling negative thoughts at me like small grenades of insecurity. I was battling the enemy's lies.

A few days before, my friend Suzanne reminded me that as Christians the devil can’t possess us, but he can sure oppress us. In church that night I was weighed down with that oppression.  It was suffocating. 

Then the light broke through. 

My God tells me I don’t need to find my worth in the way people feel about me, or who my friends are.  My worth is found in Him alone.  He’s the one who sustains me. He brings me peace. 

The devil started the battle, but God’s truth bomb won the war.

And just like that, the burden fell off my shoulders and I no longer felt shackled by insecurity.  God is my deliverer and my firm foundation.

A final thought…

If you’re not currently struggling with the enemy’s attacks, can you do me a favor?  Find the person who is standing at the edge of your community with one foot out the door and reach out to her. Be transparent with your own struggles and use that opportunity to speak truth into her life. Ask to pray with her and for her. Show her, that despite what the devil is whispering in her ear, she is still loved. Learn to recognize the struggle in others and reach into the darkness. 

“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

In doing so, we build up our community and build a hedge against the enemy looking to devour us one by one.