There are few things in this world that I enjoy more than a weekend away with girlfriends. Add to that weekend a list of authors and speakers that I love and a praise team that is literally weeping openly as they worship and this girl is WRECKED.  In the best way. LifeWay Women has got it going on, y’all. If you have never attended the LifeWay Women’s Forum you need to sign up for 2016. Now.

As I sit, sifting through my notes from the weekend and praying about how to apply them, I see some pretty clear directives. I wanted to get them down on “paper” (not really, because actual writing, like with a pen, hurts my hand.) So, bear with me as I organize my thoughts publicly, because I am an extrovert and external processor and my husband has listened to all of this like a CHAMP but his ears are tired, I think.

God did not speak to me audibly. But the black and white words on the pages of my notebook are screaming at me pretty loudly tonight. Here is what they are saying:

  • DO THE THING I’VE ALREADY GIVEN YOU TO DO. In other words, stop looking toward the next thing. Be present and give this thing your all. “Stop letting things that don’t matter run your ministry.” (Lisa Harper)
  • WALK WORTHY OF YOUR CALLING. In humility and patience for the sake of unity. “Be faithful to what He’s called you to today. Everything you are learning is in preparation for tomorrow.” (Chris Adams)
  • STOP LOOKING FOR APPROVAL AND ACCEPTANCE from anyone other than Me. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25
  • MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR DAYS. They are limited. “You have one chance to write the story of your life.” (Karen Kingsbury)
  • SEEK THE KINGDOM. “Don’t let ‘shadow missions’ distract you from your real mission.” (Pete Wilson- who, by the way, has the coolest hair of any pastor I’ve ever seen. Must be a Nashville thing.)
  • TRUST ME. I’VE GOT YOU. “Cease striving to prove that you are enough. You are not enough. He is enough.” (Jen Wilkin)

There is a profound simplicity to what God asks of us. But I have learned that “simple” rarely means easy. Default mode is easy, but rarely obedient. Obedience is simple, but rarely easy. Praying for the grace to rise to the challenge this week.


The Best Mom

I got an interesting request today. It went something (or exactly) like this: “Would you please write a blog post about how it is possible to still love your child even while not feeding them paleo, organic meals, homeschooling, or rubbing them down with essential oils every day???” And I admit, I laughed out loud a little while sitting in the “waiting room” at the dance studio where I was busily planning my drive-thru dinner and how the heck all the children would be picked up from their various activities. I was pushing back the mom-guilt after reading the post about what time kids should go to bed based on their age and wake-up time, knowing that there was NO WAY we would be in bed before 8:30pm (or 9, but who’s counting?).

The truth is, I have had the worst month EVER in the history of months. Partly because I have teenagers who think they know all when they really know SQUAT and partly because I have littles who act like the teenagers. And partly because life is just hard sometimes.  I get that. Doesn’t mean I am ok with it.

I think at the top of my list of “why this has been a hard month” is that I just feel like a failure as a mom. Because it isn’t rainbows and sunshine at my house as much as it is battles and tears and praying myself to sleep over the children that I just love so stinkin’ much it feels like my heart might break. The teen who doesn’t see the danger surrounding her. The 6 yr old that defies and demands and pushes and pulls until I am completely undone. The grown-up kid who just this month left my nest and is making his own and I just can’t seem to Let. Go. This mama’s heart is battle-worn and weary.

And then I see the posts about the bedtimes and the eating habits and the evil of public schools and the horrors of social media exposure and I just want to crawl under a rock and hide. Do I think that is the intent of the really passionate and dogmatic mom crowd? No. Does it still sting a little? Yes. And I want to scream at the top of my lungs: WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM, PEOPLE.

To that single mom driving through Wendy’s on her way home because you know that you have homework to help with and chores to do- YOU ARE THE BEST MOM.

To that mom working in full time ministry because that is what God has called you to while other people help with your kiddos in the afternoon- YOU ARE THE BEST MOM.

To that homeschool mom ready to pull her hair out but determined to be obedient to what God has asked of her- YOU ARE THE BEST MOM.

To that mom cooking the healthiest food she can afford to help her children function at their very best- YOU ARE THE BEST MOM.

To that stay-at-home mom who really just wants a vacation in Tahiti but will settle for re-runs of The Middle with her hubby on the couch after the kids FINALLY go to sleep- YOU ARE THE BEST MOM.

And to that mom who cries and prays over one who has gone astray, believing that God will redeem and restore that which has been lost- YOU ARE THE BEST MOM.

Girls, we have got to stop thinking that whatever God has called us to, placed us in, or blessed us with is the only way. We have got to make room for each other and cheer for each other. You are the best mom for your kids. That is why God gave them to you instead of someone else. He knew you could do it, with His help. He knew there would be times when you would get to the end of your rope and would cry out to Him, and even that was by design. We desperately need Him, YES. But we also need each other.

Let’s be each other’s cheerleaders. This mom gig is hard. There are good days, yes. But I dare say the hard days come more often than any of us would prefer. So let’s lift each other up- RIGHT WHERE WE ARE.

Face Value

happy faceMy mom and I have a recurring conversation. It usually starts with me talking about some parenting struggle, to which she offers some encouragement or a little wise counsel, and then she says something like “I was never good at that.” Or “I was too strict with you.” Or “I wasn’t strict enough with your brother.” Perceived failure. I say “perceived” because she was a great mom, and while imperfect like all the rest of us moms, we knew she was always giving us her best. The problem is that she has never believed her best was good enough. After one of these recent conversations, I went home thinking about success in the realm of Motherhood. And how difficult it is to define. It isn’t like success at work, where you earn a promotion and a bigger paycheck for a job well done. It isn’t like success in sports where you earn a trophy, a medal, a ribbon, or a title for your accomplishments… But for so many of us, this Mommy thing is our profession. Our life’s work. And who doesn’t want to feel like they have achieved some measure of success in the thing they have poured their heart, soul, body, sweat, tears (and yes, sometimes blood) into?

We could wait and see how the kids turn out… That might be a good measure of success… If it weren’t for this pesky little thing called human nature, which means while it is never too late for a “bad” kid to turn “good”, or for a prodigal to come home, unfortunately it is also never too late for a great kid to “break bad” or for a grown adult child to wander from what he/she has been taught… So we might be waiting a while to measure our success using this method. I don’t know about you, but I am not really that patient.

We could look at their accomplishments… How many awards they earn at school, their ACT scores, how many scholarships they receive…. Or how many baseball trophies are on their dresser (by the way, trophies these days are no measure of real success, in case you haven’t noticed), or even how many mission trips they have been on. Sure all those things make a Mama proud. But in our hearts, we know that those are not really our successes, though we certainly played a role in helping our children achieve those things.

Success in Motherhood is a hard thing to measure.  That’s it in a nutshell.  But I am weary of falling into bed and recounting the day’s failures.  Of remembering every harsh word and wondering how many opportunities I missed to connect with the hearts of my children.  I just need a way to SEE that I am maybe not messing this up as royally as it sometimes seems.

Life has been stressful, and some days downright hard for us lately.  And I wear that stress on my face.  I did not realize this until Gracie (my 5 year old) started saying to me on a daily basis, “Mommy, you don’t look very happy.”  Usually it is because I am lost in thought over some difficulty, and not that I am truly “unhappy”, at least not with her, but in her eyes, if Mommy isn’t smiling, something is wrong.   And I started thinking about the importance of a “happy face”.  You know, “if you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it” kind of happy face.  And to a 5 year old, if my face isn’t happy, then maybe in her eyes, it’s because I am not happy with her… That made me shudder.  What if, in the eyes of my daughter, the measure of success is simply a smile?  And what if I began to make that my goal each day?  A smile is a visible way to love.  You can measure smiles in all kinds of ways… How big was that grin?  How many times did we laugh together?  Did I make a point to show love with my face today?  Did my countenance toward my family show unconditional love and acceptance?  Did it reflect to them how delightful I think they are?  In the hard moments, did it communicate forgiveness and kindness?

What if all I need to do to make each day a success is to put on my happy face?

What if the only questions I need to ask myself at night are these:  Did I smile today?  Did I laugh?  Did they?

If the answer is YES to those three questions, can I call it a successful day?

I believe I can.

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.  -Mother Teresa

I know to some this may seem overly simplistic.  Certainly there are things more important than my facial expressions.  But the thing is, I can always choose to have a happy face.  I might not always be able to control other things in my home and in my life, but I can choose to control what my countenance communicates to my children.  Mom is smiling.  She is ok.  So we are ok.  We can smile too.

The best part is, when we start with our face, our hearts will usually follow.  My pastor has said something like this several times “You don’t feel your way into action.  You act your way into feeling.”  A simple choice to smile might just determine how we feel about the whole day.  And how our kids feel about the whole day.  And days turn into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, years into a lifetime… I want to give them the gift of my smile.  Every day.  No matter what.

There is a song we sing at bedtime called “Happy Thoughts”.  I think it is from Yo Gabba Gabba or some other painfully annoying show, but I will leave you with the chorus of this sweet little tune:

Think happy thoughts, happy thoughts… That’s what you gotta do.  Think happy thoughts, happy thoughts… 

And a smile will come back to you.

In Defense of Mothers. Everywhere.

I love going to the pool with my kids.  They love it too.  It is one of the few things we do that everyone looks forward to (except the occasional bored teenager, but they don’t look forward to anything).  I know what you are thinking.  “Oh, how sweet.  Family fun in the sun.”  You are probably picturing me in my mom bathing-suit, happily splashing around in the water with my kids, praising their efforts jumping in without their floaties, and remembering to reapply sunscreen at every rest break.  Some of that happens, sometimes… But mostly, if you were watching us, you’d see my kids having a ball under the watchful eye of the teenage lifeguard, while I sit in a lounge chair next to my mommy friends talking about whatever.  Occasionally you might see one of us yell at one of the kids to stop splashing his sister, or stop running, or no, you cannot have another popsicle.  But mostly we use the pool the same way we use television.  To give us a mother-lovin’ break.

Sometimes the mommy conversation goes pretty deep.  Sometimes it is as shallow as the junior pool.  I enjoy both types.  But my favorite conversations are the honest ones.  The gritty ones.  The ones where we just say how we are feeling about life and kids and marriage without fear of being over-analyzed.  Because let’s face it, being a mom is wonderful and it is the biggest thing in our lives.  But it is also exhausting and the hardest thing we will ever do.  And nobody understands that like another mother.

Here is where I get to the defense part.  I am old enough, and have been doing this mom thing long enough to be pretty secure in who I am as a mom, and as a woman.  I don’t much care if someone doesn’t like it when I yank my 5 yr old out of the pool by her arm because she has pushed me past my limit of patience.  I am just doing my job, my way.  I don’t mind sharing openly when I am frustrated or tired or just losing my mind in general.  But that is the benefit of YEARS of being a mom.  I haven’t always been so secure.  You have to have a pretty thick skin to survive being female in this world where everyone is free to publicly share their opinions about anything you dare to openly admit.  Like being frustrated with your precious blessings.  Like wanting to run away from the people who depend on you.  Like wanting 10 minutes to yourself to eat some chocolate (without sharing) and regroup.  Here are some things we need to remember:

1.  Moms adore their children.  They make sacrifices all day everyday to give them what they need.  Whether they are at home full-time or working full-time they do whatever is necessary (and usually lots more) to meet the needs of their families.  Give moms permission to be GIVE-OUT.

2.  Even precious children whom we love with our whole hearts can get on our last nerve and be painfully annoying.  Give moms permission to be tired of their kids sometimes.

3.  Moms know that they will “miss these days” when their kids are all grown up.  They know.  They don’t need to be told that when their 2 yr old has just flushed their $500 smartphone down the toilet.  It isn’t helpful.  Really.

4.  Moms have bad days.  Usually because kids have bad days.  Give moms the benefit of the doubt BEFORE you give them the condescending look of judgement.  Or worse, before you criticize them openly on social media.  (Not that anyone ever does that.)

5.  Moms are almost always trying their very best.  Some days are better than others.  Give moms the freedom to do their job.  Their way.  Even if it is different than your way.  If you must speak into a situation, speak encouragement.  Speak kindness.  Speak life.

6.  Moms find ways to cope with the all-consuming demands placed on them every day.  They might choose things that you wouldn’t.  Just because you wouldn’t spend 2 hours at the gym everyday does not make it “obsessive”.  Just because you would never have a glass of wine in the bathtub does not make it “sinful”.  Just because you don’t take naps  every afternoon does not make it “lazy”.  Give moms permission to SURVIVE.

7.  Moms do a lot of really awesome things that no one ever sees, and that they would not even think of posting on Facebook.  That is the very nature of this job.  Moms pour love, encouragement, nourishment, knowledge, faith and energy into these little people for hours on end.  Every. Single. Day.  And sometimes night.  Remember when you see that mommy lose her cool with her 3 yr old at the pool, that there have been countless good things that you did not see.

8.  Moms don’t get a lot of appreciation.  We get like one day a year. Tell a mom she is doing great.  Tell her that especially on the bad days.

If I were a songwriter I would write some sort of Mom Anthem and we would all hold up our cell phones and glow together.  But I don’t have that kind of time tonight… Because one of my blessings is yelling for me to come sing her a song.  Which will turn into three songs.  And I need to save my songs for her.

Rock on, moms.  You are doing a mother-lovin’ good job.