More than Failure

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I wasn’t a very good mom yesterday.

I lost patience. I yelled. I bribed. I begged.

I wasn’t a very good mom.

Years ago, my vision for my life as a stay-at-home mom did not involve losing patience and yelling. When I dreamed of my years at home with my kids, I unrealistically imagined a woman who effortlessly poured life into her family each day, floating around the house with an angelic glow, as I spread Christ’s love like glitter. I never lost my patience, and I most certainly never yelled.

20180730_120402My visions of my future often display a more perfect, more put-together, more Christ-like woman than the authentic me–the me who feels like at least one wheel is always falling off, the me who is often scrambling, often frazzled, and literally never has any clue what she is going to feed her family at suppertime.

When I sat down with my Bible today, I read about Jephthah, the son of a harlot who was cast out of Israel. Years later, after living as an outcast, he was used in unimaginable ways by the Lord. God has a way of doing that–using the most imperfect people for His perfect plan.

As I read about Jephthah, I realized that like him, I am only human. I do not have an endless supply of patience, nor do I have an endless supply of flawless parenting strategies. Sometimes I just run out of ideas for how to make my toddler behave, and the irony is that my toddler never runs out of ideas for how to pick at my patience.

What bothered me about the way I behaved toward my children yesterday was that I was far from displaying to them the love of Christ. I was short with them. I ignored their requests to play. I begged them to be quiet so I could rest. Christ was no more in me yesterday than was Santa Claus.

I just simply failed. I failed my children, therefore failing my husband–but most of all– I failed God.

Wrong.

It is this guilt that Satan would like me to grab hold of and believe. It is this kind of guilt that I believe the mainstream media refers to as “mom guilt.”20180724_161607

God does not expect me to be a perfect mom, nor does my husband, nor do my kids. As I fought to maintain some level of humanness on a particularly long and tiresome day yesterday, God saw me. He saw me fight to remain calm while my toddler refused to nap. He saw me sigh in desperation as I pulled out nearly every snack from the pantry, just trying to find one that might appease my 18-month old. He saw me throw up my hands and walk away from two little boys who may as well have had their ears removed, due to their complete lack of listening skills.

God always sees me. He saw my desperation yesterday, my frustration, and my sin.

On these days, when I crawl into bed at night feeling like an utter failure, one word is on my heart: grace.

God extended an abundant amount of grace to me yesterday. He showered me with His love, despite my failures. It is this grace that allowed me to begin a new day today, with yesterday far from my mind. It is this grace that allows me to shower my children with love, despite their failures.

As a mom who strives to invite Christ into her home on a daily basis, I know that I can trust God to find a way in, even when I don’t feel like I “impressed” Him. Even on the most difficult days, I can trust that Jesus is still very much present within me. It may not have been quite as obvious to me yesterday, but Jesus has a way of getting around our guilt and our sin and shining out of us anyway.

20180629_142702It is an unbelievable weight off my shoulders when I realize the love of Christ undoes all my sin. In the many areas that I fall short as a mother, He fills the void. On the days I feel more like a tyrant than a mother, He offers me grace so that I may begin another day, and displays His love to my children anyway.

Yesterday I was tired, but Jesus was still my Savior, and His forgiveness is still mine to take. What an relief!

God does not command us to be Christ-like so we can feel guilty when we fail. Even on my best and brightest days, when I feel like my best self, when I feel like I conquered motherhood perfectly, I am still light years away from reflecting the perfection that is Jesus. And so I will view my failures yesterday as a blessing, for they humbled me and again reminded me of my inescapable need for the love and grace of my Savior.  

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God Shaped Priorities

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Every now and then something happens that makes you realize everything that has seemed so important to you– getting your child to sleep through the night, affording that unexpected car repair payment, going on one last vacation before school starts– really amounts to nothing at all.

20180730_174210Today when I heard of an 18-month old on life support, for an accident that could have easily taken place in my own home, all of my weak attempts at maintaining my priorities crumbled beneath me.

Heading into my last month of pregnancy, I have been rushing about the house day after day organizing and cleaning and preparing. My boys have played together well and have allowed me to complete most of my daily tasks with minimal whining. In fact, I have been organizing so much that last week my 3-year-old was quite proud of his own organizing skills when he rearranged his dinosaurs in the living room (I’m creating a monster).

I would not say that I have neglected my children, but I certainly have not put spending time with them at the top of my list. When you stay home with your kids day after day, it can be difficult to remember that your physical presence is not always enough. They need me to be engaged and emotionally present in their lives each day, not just spending time in the same house as them. Quality time is essential for a stay-at-home mom and it is easy to fall into a habit of viewing quantity time and quality time as the same thing.

However, today my priorities were once again set right when I listened to my 18-month-old squeal and giggle from the basement as he played “capsized boat” with his dad. My overwhelming gratefulness that my son was healthy when another mother, just like me, was simply begging the Lord that her’s might live, caused me to immediately put down my Windex, leaving a bathroom only half cleaned, and go hop on the imaginary sinking boat in my basement.20180615_150207

With life being so hectic and so demanding, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is those that matter to us. When God has granted us little ones to enjoy and shape into fully grown Christians, I imagine He anticipates that we will cherish every single second He allows us to raise them.

So tonight, put down the remote or your intense desire for some peace and quiet and go cuddle with your kids; let them stay up past their bedtime as they lie next to you; let them tell you their dreams as you both drift off to sleep.

The Thorn or the Antidote

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I want to know so badly what infirmity tormented Paul so much that he cried out to the Lord three times for mercy and healing. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul’s desperation can be plainly seen when he describes his pain as “a messenger of Satan.” When God responded to his cries for relief, he received an answer that would fail to satisfy. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

With that, Paul’s attitude shifts dramatically as he explains, quite convincingly, that he takes pleasure in his infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses, so that “the power of Christ may rest upon” him.

spur-1818848_1920God’s answer was enough to fully satisfy Paul to embrace his pain and learn to think of it as nothing but a blessing from the Lord. He also describes it as the thing God uses to keep him humble. Dealing with multiple weaknesses myself, God has given me this same answer a number of times, and I never quite rejoice in it the way Paul does.

As we suffer, we want only one thing: God, please take this away. The longer our prayer goes unanswered, the more assured we become that God has turned away from us, that He no longer works for our good.

Of course, a true Christian knows this could not be further from the truth, but no matter how strong in faith we are, when our strength is tested by an infirmity, reproach, need, persecution, or distress, we begin to view God through the lens of our own pain, instead of the lens of truth. Deep within our hearts, we know that God is good, but our finite human capacity for understanding lacks the strength to grasp why a good God would allow us to suffer.

prayer-1308663_1920Paul was certainly able to grasp it, but 2 Corinthians 12:9 has always perplexed me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” I understand the basic concept of this verse, but I cannot confidently say that I have seen it in action.

I began to focus on this verse in my quest for freedom from anxiety. Anxiety is no doubt my weakness, or the thorn within my flesh as Paul refers to it. The more I meditated on this verse, the more confused I became. How could God possibly be made strong in my weakness? In fact, the reality of my life demonstrated the exact opposite of this. When I experience moments of my most extreme anxiety, I feel further from God, and I definitely have never seen Him show up in a fury to display this “strength” He supposedly gains from my pain.

This is the way I felt toward this verse until God recently led me to read the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8. Now, I can finally say that I am beginning to understand why God left Paul’s cries for relief, and mine too, unanswered.20180727_131331

You see, Gideon is facing the Midianites with an army of 32,000; despite this being a significant number of men, Gideon is still outnumbered by the immense Midianite army. Then, God appears to Gideon and says, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me…” God then asks Gideon to decrease the size of his army not once, but twice, leaving him with just 300 men.

Wow. Um… What?

We know the outcome of this story, of course. The Israelites are victorious against the Midianites and all credit, for a time, is given to God, therefore strengthening the Israelites in faith. When I think of my anxiety, I am not sure how I would respond if God somehow asked me to make myself even weaker against its forces. Actually, I know exactly how I would respond: I would tell God to go find someone else to ask His outrageous requests.

However, after reading this powerful story of Gideon being made unimaginably weak so that God might get all the glory I am finally able to grasp what God means when he says that His strength is made perfect through my weakness, or my anxiety.

I do not combat my anxiety on my own. When I attempt to do this, I am left irrevocably helpless and discouraged. God walks with me each day, even on days I know my anxiety is going to come upon me with a vengeance. And it is at the end of these uniquely difficult days that I climb into my bed at night with praise upon my heart, because I know that it was God who sustained me. Despite feeling sickeningly weak throughout the day, I cannot argue that at the end of such a day, God is the one that saw me to the sunset.

Most days I do not face this paralyzing anxiety, and on these days, I do not climb into bed praising God. It is only on days that I was sure would defeat me do I become the most aware of God’s unwavering and unsurpassed love for me.

sky-2667455_1920This love is what makes the pain of my anxiety so worth it. Without God, it would be nothing but a thorn, but with God, it becomes a means to bring Him glory, which is really my whole purpose in life. I will continue to plead with the Lord to take away my anxiety, because I believe in His healing power. However, each time He responds to me the way He responded to Paul, I will recognize the transforming power God brings upon me because of my weakness, not in spite of my weakness.

Each and every day I am able to muster up enough strength to defeat my anxiety will be another day that God is glorified. You see, no matter what, I am victorious because He is my King.

A Warrior of Feeble Faith

His fear had faded into a weak and desperate voice deep within, but he knew better than to pay it any mind. As he gazed down to the valley, the weary sun was just beginning to find rest on the west side of the hill of Moreh. The commotion from the enemy camp that could have been heard just a few minutes ago had now quieted to muted conversations and hushed whispers, another sign that the men were not anticipating an attack.

desert-1270345_1920A light breeze had picked up, common for this region, and had awakened the sand around his feet, still hot from the sun. He breathed long and deep as he felt his soul settle even more peacefully into what he knew was to come: victory. He knew now what he had to do, and as he headed back into his own camp to rally his men, he thanked God once more for His boundless favor.

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This fearless fighter would soon accomplish a seemingly impossible task by defeating the Midianite army with just 300 men. God had already ordained that Gideon and the Israelites would be successful, and at this point in his story, Gideon is confident of this victory. However, it was only weeks before this courageous moment that Gideon was not valiant, nor confident, nor a warrior.

In fact, he was a member of the weakest clan in Manasseh, as well as the weakest member of this clan. Surprisingly when the Lord first addressed Gideon, he called him a “mighty man of valor.” Clearly God saw what no one else could.

Not only was Gideon physically weak, he displayed fragile faith when God revealed Himself. He questioned God’s motives, as well as His entire plan for the nation of Israel: “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about? (Judges 6:13).” He goes on to claim that the Lord has forsaken the Israelites and has delivered them into the hands of the Midianites.

When he is finally able to accept that it is in fact God’s will for him to conquer the death-valley-89261_1920Midianites, he questions that it is God speaking to him at all, and asks God for a sign that it is really Him. This is not the only moment on Gideon’s journey that He asks God for a sign.

In fact, it takes Gideon a couple face to face encounters with God to truly find peace in His will. I like to think if God showed up on my doorstep and insisted that I was a mighty warrior, I would nod my head in agreement and follow Him to the ends of the earth, but I know this isn’t true.

Gideon’s story resonates so much with the way I have approached God over and over and over again. No matter how many times God proves himself faithful, I still question His motives, His presence, and His ultimate goodness. How do I know this is really Your will? If you’re really with me, why has all this happened to me? Where are your miracles? How could I possibly do what you’re asking of me? Give me a sign.

Just as Gideon wondered all these things, so do I, and I have a feeling I’m not alone. The comfort we are to find in Gideon’s story is that despite his complete lack of faith and qualification, God still worked through Him to accomplish one of the most unlikely victories in history. God saw something in Gideon, and not only did He see it, He turned Gideon inside out to reveal that part of his character.

When we follow the will of God, our victory is secure, just like Gideon’s. This means that our fear should be conquered and our doubt, crushed. Even in our faith’s weakest moments, we have something that Gideon lacked: the Word of God. God’s word shows us the improbable and phenomenal victories God has achieved for others, and we can be entirely confident that our own battles already belong to Him.

Jesus and my Toddler

My suburban is always parked in my driveway. It usually has too many bug guts splattered on the windshield and too little gas in the tank. The #momlife sticker on the back window suggests to all other drivers how I spend most of my time and where my priorities lie. It also may explain why I am so distracted when I’m on the road, often driving with one hand reached in the backseat doesn’t make for a lot of awareness.

20180624_132711I am not a great car owner. Whenever my husband mentions that we should take it to the shop, my first reaction is to question whether that’s necessary and then procrastinate on making the appointment. I depend upon my car everyday, multiple times a day, but I don’t like to fill it with gas, spend money on it, or care for it in any way. In fact, I really only recognize my immense need for my car when it breaks down, usually due to my own procrastination to take care of it in the first place.

God commands us to have childlike faith, and since I have been a Christian all my life, this can be hard to achieve. My dependence on God often looks more like the way I depend upon my car, only appreciating His constant presence in my life when something breaks down.

After my car spends time in the shop, I usually go through a period of gratefulness that it is still in my driveway and hyper-sensitivity to all of its needs. But a few months down the road, I go back to taking it for granted and neglecting the blinking light by my speedometer. My walk with God often looks a lot like this. Whenever He sees me through a major change in my life, I praise Him and pray to Him constantly, fervently living to serve Him. When a few months have passed, I go back to weak prayers, obligatory Bible reading, and overlooking His many blessings.

Since entering motherhood, my inconsistent and noncommittal walk with God has changed. Someday, when my hair is gray and my son is grown, I am going to thank him for the many ways he taught me about authentic faith in Christ.20180611_191035

At three-years-old, his honest love for Jesus convicts me nearly every day, and motivates me to grow still closer to Him. His fascination with the most simplistic aspects of God’s creation convicts me that no matter how many times I see a bird in flight, it should still cause me to recognize God’s true character–a God of abundant love, sovereign over every detail.

His innocent questions about where Jesus lives convict me that perhaps my knowledge of the Lord has grown weary, and I no longer see Him as a constant companion. His profound connection and concern for a hurting acquaintance convicts me that I too should have compassion for all God’s people, following Jesus’ own example. 

His childlike faith has allowed me to see God through the eyes of a child–the way I used to see Him when I slept on princess sheets under a white-lace canopy.

My son weakly walked up to me last week and said, “Mommy, my tummy hurts.”

Since I’ve learned not to put a lot of stock into my toddler’s complaints, I aloofly said, “What do you want to do about that, bud?”

Completely unaware that I was about to experience one of those lasting moments, a moment I will look back on when he is well grown, he surprised me when he whispered, “I want to ask Jesus to come help me.”

And with that, he began to pray.

“Do you feel better now, bud?” I asked after he’d said amen.

With a grin, he looked at me and shouted, “I feel great!” and ran off to play with his brother.

20180701_131620It occurred to me in this intimate moment with my son that as an adult, my knowledge that the very presence of Jesus will not only diminish my pain but completely cancel it out has grown weak. I often find myself praying fervently to Him, yet feeling no change whatsoever after I say amen. This absence of answered prayer is not from a lack of God’s presence, but from a lack of childlike faith.

When I bow my head to pray, I must believe with as much passion as my toddler, that Jesus is ready, willing, and waiting to give me all that I desire.

This is authentic faith.

Satan can Bite Me

My first thought when my feet reluctantly hit the floor is that my youngest child is up particularly early; on my way to his room I pass a heaping pile of dirty laundry sitting in the middle of my floor, the very laundry I had intended to get washed, dried, and folded the night before. Minutes later as my husband rushes out the door leaving me holding two crabby and exhausted toddlers, he yells, “By the way, I might be home late tonight.” I turn my attention to the pile of dishes in the sink that did not make it to the dishwasher. When I head to the pantry, my toddler is out of dinosaur oatmeal, the only breakfast he will humble himself to eat. A tantrum ensues while I get my youngest a banana.

When I consider the morning before me, it occurs to me that I may not have the energy to drag these two to the grocery store, and worse yet, I may not have any money once I get there. I receive a text from a friend, my intended lifeline for the afternoon; she is cancelling our scheduled playdate because of a sick kid. I attempt to think positively and thank God that my kids are healthy today, but I am interrupted by my 3-year old’s disastrous attempt to dress himself, realizing hours later that I never completed that essential moment of gratitude.IMG_20180419_081802_914

As I lean back on my toddler’s floor, listening to him wail as he makes a second attempt to get his pants on, I realize the powerful hold Satan already has on my day. By welcoming each negative thought, and ignoring the immense blessings involved in each of these moments, I have given Satan a foothold nearly before the real Creator I worship even crosses my mind.

Each morning when I wake, I have two options. I can allow these seemingly negative and sometimes impossible moments to take control and destroy the day before me, or I can wake with my Father, expectantly absorbing the day He has created for me. When my smallest startles me awake, earlier than I would have liked, I should first take notice of the gorgeous sunrise I would have otherwise missed. As my small miracles lose their patience waiting for their breakfasts, I can thank my Lord that we have food to eat. When my toddler has a tantrum trying to dress himself, I can thank my Lord that He is able to dress himself, and I have been given the opportunity to mold him into an independent young man. When my dread of the grocery store reveals itself, I can thank God my children love the grocery store and are thrilled each time they get a sucker for the ride home.

I am reminded of a quote from Charles Spurgeon taped to my fridge, “You are as much serving God in looking after your own children, and training them up in God’s fear, and minding the house, and making your household a church for God, as you would be if you had been called to lead an army to battle for the Lord of hosts.”

IMG_20180314_164406_616Despite the countless moments on this particular morning that I have forgotten God, He still found a way to remind me, in the middle of my toddler’s floor, that my purpose is to do His work by molding his disciples. No matter where the day takes me, I am to be a woman who fears the Lord, and convey that to my children, even in the midst of an ill-fated morning. Because I am a woman who fears the Lord, Satan will fight to infiltrate my thoughts and prevent me from achieving any of God’s purposes each and every morning.

Satan did not win today, because today God gave me a second chance. So, I smile, quietly thank my Savior, help my toddler put his pants on, and begin again.

Lacking Nothing

I would love to be the woman who never worries, but embodies the peace of Christ. I would love to be the woman who never measures her worth in relation to the world around her. I would love to be the woman who is just the right amount of humbleness and boldness. I would love to be the woman who never dwells upon what she does not have, but instead rejoices in her gifts, as well as her weaknesses.flowers-3307436_960_720

I would love to be the woman who handles the stress and chaos of raising small children with such ease that her children always feel wholly loved. I would love to be the woman who wakes before her family each day to spend time with her Lord, centering herself on eternity before the world takes hold. I would love to be the woman who personifies such joy that she is nothing but a comfort and an encouragement to her hard working husband.

I would love to be any of these things.

But I am not.

And that’s okay.

The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9 that I am made complete by my faith, not by my works.

This means that even though I lack the endurance, fortitude, and selflessness to fully reflect the woman I believe God wants me to be, He brings out perfection in me anyway.

God said in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that I can boast in my weakness, because in my weakness, He is most seen.girl-2940655_960_720

My call then is to not be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman, but to be perfectly content in all my imperfections, thanking and praising Jesus Christ that I will be welcomed into God’s kingdom despite my failure to succeed at all I desire to be.

So I will stop striving to be the perfect woman who always has a gourmet meal on the table, an immaculate house, and a full bank account, and I will find my rest in the work that Jesus Christ has already done on my behalf.

 

**To my faithful followers: I’ve been out of the writing loop for awhile, but I have entered an essay contest. Please consider voting for my essay, “Iridescence in a Dark World” at http://myfaithradio.com/2018/iridescence-in-a-dark-world/. I need to make it into the Top 10 by May 13 to be in the next round of judging. Thank you, all!**