Prayer: Our Powerful Parenting Tool

He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

Sometimes, all we can do is wear out the carpet with our knees. 

God used my son to teach me this valuable lesson during his first couple years of elementary school. I knew he was an energetic kid, but when his behavior started to fall behind his Kindergarten peers, a small seed of worry began to grow. Could he have special needs? A learning disability or ADHD?

Countless attempts at discipline, setting consequences, and rewards without improvement left me feeling defeated. Reassuring the school principal we were handling the situation became harder the following year as the reports kept coming home: Has difficulty focusing. Is a distraction to his classmates. Cannot complete assignments. I dreaded answering the phone when the school called. What if they ask him to withdraw?

Before I knew it, that seed of worry had grown into full blown momma anxiety. I felt ill-equipped to handle the mental strain and emotional stress of a child with academic and emotional delay. 

I needed a plan to fight the fret. Tummy butterflies, shaking hands, and trouble breathing became physical manifestations of a spiritual lack of trust and I simply couldn’t live like that. One night, I went into my son’s room after he fell asleep and knelt beside his bed. I laid my hands on him and began to pray for guidance. 

Psalm 91 has always been one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, but in the shadows of my son’s dimly lit room, I experienced the comfort of being covered by the Lord’s wings. Verse 4 says, He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. I found refuge in remembrance of the Lord’s faithfulness. I knew He was in control and would guide me through the ups and downs of this journey.

As I reread Psalm 91 in its entirety, my anxiety fizzled out as the words became relevant to my circumstances: 

  • God will protect my son. (v. 4) 
  • I have no reason to fear what will happen. (v.5) 
  • This process will not bring harm or disaster to our family. (v. 10) 
  • When I call on Him, He will answer me. He will be with me every step of the way. (v. 15)

Perhaps you understand how the weight of parenting can lay heavy on a momma’s heart. But that’s why prayer is the most powerful tool we have. Consistently going to God lessens anxiety; as our knees wear out the carpet, God lifts our burdens. He protects our children more effectively than we ever could. Let’s put our trust in Him.

Is True Beauty Fleeting?

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4

What is your favorite physical attribute? Your smile? Eyelashes? Waistline? I’m quick to recognize what I don’t like about myself, but it’s important to consider what we do like and be grateful. Because it may not always be that way.

I didn’t realize how attached I was to my hair until it started falling out. I simply thought it would always be thick and healthy.

Like many other women, my hair stopped falling out while I was pregnant and then fell out by the handfuls after I delivered my children. But this time was different. I wasn’t with child nor had I recently delivered. My hair was simply falling out for no apparent reason. And I could see exposed scalp beneath thinning hair.

The thought of having permanent hair loss evoked unexpected devastation and worry. What if it never goes back to normal? I began to realize part of my self-confidence was anchored in my hair. I had allowed my perception of personal beauty to be defined by my appearance.

This is far from what God wants for us. In fact, I Peter 3:3 says, Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. God gently reminded me that my worth and beauty does not come from my outward appearance, rather, it should be that of my inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (I Peter 3:4)

As a society, we make judgements based on external appearances. But many of our physical features are inherited and out of our control.

Our attitude, however, it something we can control and that is what God loves – our heart and soul. A gentle and quiet spirit knows how much God loves them, believes He is her perfect creator, and finds confidence in Him alone.

Consider again your favorite attribute. Now, imagine if you woke one morning to find it dramatically altered. Would you view yourself differently? God wants us to focus less on ourselves and more on Him. I pray our inner beauty becomes more important than our outward appearance. Because inner beauty – true beauty – isn’t fleeting.

Is Kindness A Burden?

In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
1 John 5:3-4

Loving difficult people is grueling sometimes. Constructive conversations dissolve into arguments as their strong will pursues a personal agenda above all else. Perhaps you know someone who struggles to possess genuine empathy for others. It’s hard not to want to put them in their place and let them know how hard it is to get along with them. Showing them kindness feels more like a burden than a privilege.

Unfortunately, I was having similar thoughts not too long ago. My bible reading was in I John and I experienced heavy conviction as I came to chapter 5 verse 3, which says, The commandments are not burdensome. Reality hit me like a sudden slap across the face: I was allowing myself to be crushed by the weight of faithful responsibility. God has called me to demonstrate the fruit of the spirit because His spirit is in me. I was allowing His tree of life to wither with criticism and judgment. Grace had become foreign to me. I wanted the other person to know just how much I disapproved of their behavior.

But that’s not what God calls me to do. God has given two specific instructions: to love Him and to love my neighbor. Matthew 22:37-40 says, Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Those two commandments are the core values of our faith and without them, we are only a resounding gong or clanging symbol. (1 Corinthians 13:1) Love is the essence of who Jesus is and why He sacrificed Himself for us. Love conquers death. It shows grace to life-long criminals. Without love, there would be no kindness.

As a child of God, I have the responsibility to turn my heart towards Him. Doing so reminds me that my calling is not to put others in their place, but to point them to Jesus. Showing kindness isn’t a burden when I take myself out of the equation and allow God to love them through me. Because, who knows, we may be the only glimpse of Jesus they ever get to see.

Wounded By Words

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
Psalm 118:5-6

“You can really hurt someone by the words you speak,” I told my son. Knowing he had felt the sting of criticism in the past, and I reminded him to choose his words carefully.

As I was getting ready for bed later that evening, I realized how much I allow the words of others to influence my mood or opinion of myself. Just that day, I had been feeling discouraged about the critical words and tone with which someone else spoke to me. As much as I wished it had, their comment didn’t just roll off me. It stuck like a glob of glue in my heart and it didn’t feel good.

Then, I came across Psalm 118:5-6. True to God’s nature of perfect timing, He reminded me that His opinion is what matters most. I had been pressed into a state of gloom, allowing another’s statements to steal my joy. But being reminded of God’s love for me, my heart danced off the goo and was free of bondage to the approval of man. What can mere mortals do to me when I have the affections of the God of the universe?

Perhaps you, too, allow the words and actions of others to influence the way you view yourself or the world. It’s hard not to sometimes, especially when those people are close friends or family. We value their opinion.

But if what they’re saying is critical, condescending or simply maligned from the Word of God, then we need to proceed with caution. Taking a moment to pause and reflect may be just what we need to redirect negative thoughts to the truth.

Is what they’re saying true? What is their spirit communicating? Two simple questions point us to clarity and confidence.

If what they’re saying isn’t true, we can stop there and rebuke Satan’s efforts the convince us otherwise. If what they’re saying is true, whether we want to hear it to not, then we need to listen. God may be using them to speak to us.

If their spirit communicates tenderness, we should be grateful God has given us a special friend who speaks the truth in love. But if their aim is to tear us down or build themselves up, then let’s see that for what it is. God is gentle and kind; He never speaks with condescending tones. He may want to get out attention, but He will not do so with criticism. Ridicule is the language of Satan; let’s claim victory over him in those moments.

God wants us to live under His affections, under His supernatural acceptance. His intentions are not for us to seek the approval of man or try to please others. He desires we look only to Him for our true identity and reliance.

We’ll never control what comes out of others’ mouths, but we can control what we say. As I encouraged my son to do, may we not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
(Ephesians 4:29)

Is Self-Care Self-ish?

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.
Galatians 6:4

My role as a mom and wife is dearly rewarding but often leaves me depleted with little time for myself. The coming new year marks time of reflection and one theme keep recurring in my mind – self-care.

I’ve often thought of self-care as somewhat self-ish, believing it meant neglecting care for others in order to do what I wanted to do. But is that really true?

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season I spent more time baking, volunteering, and cleaning than exercising, reading my bible, and resting – all essential acts to maintain my health. And I felt it. I couldn’t run around with my kids, I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings, and my pants were too tight!

I started realizing that self-care is not selfish, it’s actually a necessary part of giving of ourselves to others. I won’t be my best mom-and-wife-self if I’m not healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Galatians 6:4 reminds me of three important things relevant to self-care:

1. Self-care is my responsibility. Each one should test their own actions... Testing my actions means assessing my efforts to nurture my soul. Am I spending enough time with God? Am I eating healthy? Am I exercising? No one can take care of me as well as I can nor should I expect someone else to.

2. Self-care leads to confidence. Then they can take pride in themselves alone... When we tend to our personal needs, we feel better about ourselves. We can take pride in the choices we make knowing it honors God to respect the body and heart He has given us.

3. Self-care is personal. Without comparing themselves to someone else. I have many friends who do not understand how getting up an hour early to read my Bible couldn’t be anything but exhausting, but for me it’s just what I need. Other friends don’t struggle with a love of carbs; they don’t have to restrict their diet. It’s important to avoid comparing the ways we differ in methods of self-care. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa. What matters is that we make self-care a priority because doing so allows us to give our best to others.

Taking better care of myself is my New Years resolution for 2020 – what’s yours?

Distracted By Many Things

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” Luke 10:41-42

There are days when I feel overwhelmed my by to-do list. A lot needs to be done in a little amount of time and regardless of how much I accomplish, it never seems to include everything. Can you relate?

I bet Martha can. In Luke 10, we find her scurrying around the house, meal prepping while scooping the countertops clear of miscellaneous items and fluffing pillows. Jesus has been welcomed into her home and it’s a big deal. While wanting to make a good impression, she is clearly overwhelmed by her to-do list.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? I begin to talk faster than normal and at a higher pitch than normal. My furrowed brow communicates stress to all who glance in my direction. And when the task is an urgent one, it’s best if you get out of my way.

Needless to say, feeling overwhelmed is not a pretty experience. And it wasn’t for Martha when she asked for help:

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40)

Martha had been drawn away from Jesus, her attention diverted to the tasks. While focusing on the list, she was missing out on the gift – the presence of Jesus.

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
(Luke 10:41-42
)

I can completely relate to Martha’s struggle. The dishes are not going to wash themselves and food doesn’t miraculously show up on the table. But what Martha is missing is that those things can wait. Jesus wasn’t about physical appearances. He wasn’t impressed by upgraded kitchens or well-coordinated shades of grey in the living room. He didn’t awe at the size of her tv. He was about relationships – communion with others – and we should be too.

When I rush through the grocery store check-out line so I can quickly drop the cold items at home before making it to yoga, I miss the opportunity to identify the hurt in the cashier’s eyes. I fly past a God-ordained encounter to be used by Him. Distracted by many things, I omit the one thing.

If your to-do list is long and overwhelming, take it to God. Ask Him to show you which items are most important to accomplish in a given day and schedule the others in elsewhere. While grabbing a quick cup of coffee, take the time to observe your surroundings. Ask the Lord to prompt you to speak if a stranger needs an encouraging word. With His help, we can incorporate our many things with His One Thing.

Childlike Forgiveness

Have you ever seen children peacefully playing together, sharing, and taking turns? Perhaps for a short time, but more commonly, they snatch, bicker, and frequently yell, “mine!” Sharing may not be a child’s strong suit, but they seem to do pretty well with forgiveness. They could be fighting and biting one minute, then hugging and holding hands as they trot back to the sand box as if nothing ever happened.

What makes it so difficult for adults to forgive in the same way? Often, our first instinct is to hold a grudge against someone who has offended us. We are quick to judge their motives and protect ourselves from being mistreated or embarrassed. We forget that just this morning we needed to ask forgiveness from someone else.

As we age, the experiences of life create wounds and as a result, we develop insecurities or push down unwanted negative emotions. We acquire sensitive areas representing these wounds in various stages of healing. When we are hurt by someone else’s words or actions, these sensitive areas are pressed and it doesn’t feel good. We react in defense rather than respond with forgiveness.

Children, however, haven’t accumulated a bank of negative experiences and live under the bliss of short term memory loss. They are wired to live in the moment, quickly moving between emotional responses. They have the ability to forgive and forget.

Childlike forgiveness is what God offers to us and how He desires we forgive others. In fact, it is such an integral part of our walk with Him that He included it in the Lord’s prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

The greek word used for forgive is aphiémi which means to send away, let go, release. Imagine our sins to be like a balloon filled with helium. As we confess them to God, we are letting go and He simply watches them float by. He does not snatch them up, adding them to the millions of balloons we’ve confessed over the years. No, He sends them away. He remembers them no more. (Hebrews 8:12)

So why, then, do we hold on to the sins of others against us? When we do, we position ourselves above God as judge, deeming it our responsibility to keep track of their balloons. Inevitably, our balloons mingle with theirs making it nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two. We cannot expect to openly receive forgiveness from God with our hands tightly gripping a bundle of balloon strings.

But who are the debtors we need to forgive? A debtor is someone who sins against us or withholds the love and respect owed to us. We often view forgiveness as a willingness to accept the sin itself. This is difficult because we want heinous offenses to be unforgivable. We want our pain validated.

Alternatively, what if we could shift our focus from the act of sin to the lack of respect or love we have received as a result? Choosing to forgive what we have been deprived of rather than the offense itself can revolutionize how we forgive. Because our ultimate need for love and respect comes from Christ and not from other humans, we experience the freedom to let go of what has been done to us and receive healing from God.

We are not responsible for how we are treated, but we are responsible for how we respond. We need the forgiveness of God as Matthew 6:14-15 says For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Forgiving frees us from the bondage of grudges and clears our slate with God.

Are you clinging to a handful of balloons? Whether they are your unconfessed sins or the sins of others against you, open your hands and release them all. Consider forgiveness through the lens of a child. To truly forgive means to truly forget, as if the offense never happened.

Is It Really ‘My Pleasure’?

My favorite thing about Chick-fil-A, besides their delicious, mouth-watering chicken sandwiches, is the friendly service I receive there. No matter which location I go to, it will be the same – in response to a “thank you”, I hear, “my pleasure”.

That phrase invokes warmth within me. It somehow means more than “you’re welcome” or “no problem”. It’s as if they had eagerly anticipated my arrival so they could prepare a meal just the way I liked it. It was their pleasure to do so; not a burden, a mundane task, or an obligation.

Recently, after having Chick-fil-A for lunch, I kept thinking about that response – “my pleasure”. As I shuffled through the routine of dinner preparation, homework completion and bedtime rituals, I couldn’t help but wonder, is it really my pleasure to serve the members of my family?

In all honesty, delight was far from what I was feeling. Resentful was more like it. Obligated. I was going about my perceived duties begrudgingly. My heart rambled, I’ll do it, but I don’t have to like it. Have you had similar thoughts?

What if these were Jesus’s dishes? My subconscious began to wrestle my pride as I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 9:7, which says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver.” I had decided in my heart to give, but did so reluctantly.

The Hebrew translation of reluctant is lupe, which means pain of body or mind, physical or emotional distress”. I was allowing a messy kitchen to pain me emotionally. I felt coerced, like it was my sole mandatory responsibility, rather than my privilege, to do the job. My hunched shoulders communicated the weight of household chores being nearly too much for me to bear – like the slouched pout I get when I tell my children to clean their rooms. They make sure I understand just how miserable they feel about it. I would much rather they pipe, “Sure, mom!” as they gleefully bound up the stairs. My heart would fill with pride, delighted by their cheerful attitude. The same is true for God. It brings Him joy to see us serve with willing fervor.

I’ve typically considered 2 Corinthians 9:7 in the context of tithing, and it is often referenced that way, but I think there’s more to it. If God wants us to do everything as if unto Him (Colossians 3:23) and He loves a cheerful giver, then we should take pleasure in serving others as if unto Him. It becomes less about the importance of the task but rather our attitude towards completing it. Serving hundreds of orders of fried chicken sandwiches can become monotonous day in and day out when considered a “job”. But when it’s an opportunity to serve, it becomes much more. It spreads cheer. It puts smiles on faces. It turns a boring day into a special day.

It can certainly be challenging to be cheerfully ready to serve others through the monotony of daily tasks. If this is an area of struggle for you as well, consider these ideas to help:

  1. Decide in advance to have a positive attitude. Start the day by asking God to help prepare your heart to embrace the chores of the day ahead. Lord, that mound of laundry won’t fold itself. Teach me to see it as an opportunity to bless my family.
  2. Approve of what needs to be done before being asked. Each morning, I know my sons will ask me to help them get dressed, eat breakfast, or any number of other things. When I mentally agree to assist before being asked, its a privilege rather than an nuisance.
  3. Determine to serve with joy. My response to requests for help can either be laced with willingness or irritation. Joy is not a feeling; it’s an attitude stemming from a spiritually compliant heart. Pause amidst frustrating moments to allow the Lord shift your perspective.

We can take pleasure in serving others because we know God loves a cheerful giver. He takes delight in us when we eagerly anticipate opportunities to give and embrace them with enthusiasm.

So they next time you’re told, “Thank you”, try replying with, “My pleasure”. And mean it!

Keeping Score… In A Good Way

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

My mind raced as aggravation consumed me. In less than one minute I had tallied all the things I was doing and how little I was receiving in return. Thoughts like, I shouldn’t be treated this way and I deserve better, swirled me dizzy as I sunk deeper into a whirlpool of of negativity.

Has that ever happened to you? Perhaps you’ve been mistreated at a job, spoken to disrespectfully by a family member, or given the cold shoulder by a friend. It’s easy to dwell on all the things that person is doing wrong and everything we’re doing right.

This message hit home for me while listening to a podcast about relationship dynamics. The speaker challenged the listener to ask one important question – “What is it like being in a relationship with me?” In other words, am I easy to get along with?

I was hit with an embarrassing realization that I often keep score in a bad way. Focusing on the shortcomings of others builds my self-confidence and centering my attention on how I’m not doing those things allows me to feel better about myself. But only temporarily. And it’s exhausting to hold onto these offenses.

God never intended relationships to be that way. We can’t build each other up as we’re called to do in I Thessalonians 5:11 by tearing each other down and when we keep track of mistakes, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Philippians 4:8 gives examples of what our thought life ought to be like – whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – think on these things.

Choosing to think about what God wants us to think about changes our mood and outlook on our circumstances. Looking for the good helps us forgive the bad as we mentally tally the positive.

Now, when I find myself focusing on the negative, I take inventory of my thoughts by asking three questions:

  1. Are my thoughts true? There may be truth to the negative thoughts I’m having, but it’s likely I’m exaggerating the circumstances a bit. No, they down always speak with a rude tone. No, they’re not always on my case. We can release agitation by keeping the situation in proper perspective, thus being set free from a negative thought cycle (John 8:32).
  2. Are my intentions pure? If my intentions are to build myself up, I need to shift my heart from a position of defense to one of peace-keeping. I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” When I keep score of how others are offending me, I miss the opportunity to love them. It takes intentionality and mindfulness to extend grace when we’re being rubbed the wrong way. Keeping pure thoughts towards one another leads us to forgive.
  3. Does God admire my thoughts right now? This one is a real show-stopper for me. I’d like to believe that what stays inside my head is concealed, but Psalm 139:2 says God perceives my thoughts from afar. Nothing is hidden from Him. Imagine the prick of disappointment God experiences when we think harshly of His other children. Knowing how much Jesus loves me stirs a passion to please Him with my thoughts, words, and actions. It takes practice, but we can learn to redirect our hearts and minds to think on what God would deem admirable.

Taking inventory of my thoughts diverts them to a favorable pathway. I’m reminded that the person I am criticizing is loved by God just as much as I am. This shift in perspective leads me to consider their good qualities, tallying positive marks for them and releasing my bitterness and resentment in the process. And that, my friend, begins my method of keeping score in a good way. Ready to give it a try?

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Freedom from Mom Guilt

Those who look to him are radiant; 
their faces are never covered with shame.
Psalm 34:5

The first hour of the morning is often the worst part of the day in my house. The hustle and bustle of getting three boys dressed, fed, and lunches packed while they are constantly distracted to do anything but leaves me anxious and frazzled. I can’t tell you how many times I’m heading to work wishing I could have a do-over.

Since do-overs are not possible and the morning logistics are not changing anytime soon, I began to wonder what can be done? No matter how well I plan my time in the mornings, doing as much as I can before the children awake, things happen. Namely, emotions happen. They’re tired or whiny. They don’t want to get dressed or eat as quickly as I want them to. I feel my patience thinning as I make second and third requests for shoes to be put on.

When I don’t tend to my emotional state, the irritation grows to anger and I end up speaking louder and with more condescension in my voice. And that’s what I feel guilty about. That’s what leaves me wanting a do-over. It’s not that we are late or that bellies are empty or arms are bare on a chilly morning. The actual stuff that needs to happen, happens. It’s the way in which it happens that I want to change. I want to handle myself differently.

As I look to free myself from this mom guilt, I’m reminded of Psalm 34. This passage was written by David after he had done something extremely shameful. While running from King Saul, who was trying to kill him, David pretended to be insane in order to avoid being identified. In fear, he allowed saliva to fall to his beard, a sacred part of his body. This helped him escape, but I’m sure he felt the sting of guilt afterward. He had dishonored the Lord and himself. I imagine he would’ve liked a do-over.

But what strikes me most is the way David deals with his shame. He knows exactly where to go for comfort – the Lord. He begins the chapter with praise, having already accepted the forgiveness God so freely offers. David understood that God was not an irritated, condescending Father who would shake His head or turn away when David repented. David understood the character of God to be loving and forgiving like that of a parent who welcomes a child in after making a bad choice and sits them down over warm chocolate chip cookies and ice-cold milk to discuss. Verse 4 says, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me;  He delivered me from all my fears.” God didn’t make David feel worse about what he had done – the magnitude of his choices did not elude him. Instead, the Lord’s radiance extended to David’s face, cleansing him from the guilt and shame.

On my most difficult mornings, I have the opportunity to do the same with Jesus. When I pause to look at Him rather than the chaos around me, I find peace. I can be free from mom guilt because He always extends an arm around my shoulders, comforting me and calming my fears of failure. He doesn’t reprimand me or say, “You better get it right next time, or else!” He’s more like a warm hug of encouragement saying, “You can do this. Just keep your eyes on me.”

I’m never going to be the perfect mom. Thankfully, I don’t have to be. God’s grace covers what’s been done so I can embrace what’s to come. Freedom from mom guilt provides a fresh slate to move forward upon. And who knows, maybe I will get it right the next time.