Beauty in the Mess

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It took three tries to get the kids out the door this morning. Forgotten IDs, retainer cases and instruments made the Monday morning rush a little more rushed. The migraine I’m nursing didn’t help.

This particular Monday has already been a chaotic mess, and it doesn’t look to get much better with guitar lessons, homework, soccer practice, hockey practice, deacons meeting and eating dinner in shifts.

After finally dropping the girls off at school, I came home and collapsed in a chair. My thoughts wandered over the morning, and I realized something important. I wouldn’t trade this for the world.

Because while this life has its moments of complete frustration and exasperation and I sometimes feel as if it’s a complete mess, it’s a beautiful mess.

Many of us have this image in our heads of what our lives should look like if we were doing everything right. Our kids would be straight-A, well-adjusted, athletic and artistic kids. Our houses would be spotless. Our dinners would be gourmet meals every night. We would be skinny, funny, perfectly coiffed moms.

But the reality is that no one lives like that. We’re all messes in our own ways. Life is messy. There are days when the kids are sick, when dinner is carryout pizza, and when we lose our tempers. There are days when the house has a layer of dust so thick we can draw pictures in it and we’re just so thankful that the homework is done that we don’t care if it’s correct. Heck, there are days when taking a shower is a big accomplishment.

When we take a moment, though, and step back and look, really look, at the life God has given us, we’ll find that in the middle of that mess is a beauty so deep and so real that it will bring tears to your eyes. There’s shimmering beauty in a mom who takes time out of what she’s doing to listen to the soul-deep hurt of her child. There’s beauty in the dinner left uncooked because mom was busy holding a fussy infant. There’s crazy beauty in the laughter of your teenager and her friends in the basement on what could have been a quiet evening at home.

This crazy life of school, work, sports, arts, and family isn’t pretty. It’s real people working their way through the real problems that life throws our way. Sometimes we deal with those things with grace and joy, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we make a mess. Sometimes we have to pick up the pieces. Sometimes we lose sight of the beauty.

Through it all, though, if we really step back and look, we’ll see the beauty in this life. We’ll see the shared joy, the shared tears, the moments that bind our hearts together into this thing we call family. We’ll realize that the laughter and the tears are creating relationships that will stand the tests that are thrown our way. We’ll see the bonds between siblings. We’ll know the feeling of loving another being unconditionally.

When we step back and look at our messy lives, we’ll truly understand what the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11 mean: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Can you see the beauty in the mess?

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Behavior Always Matters

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My younger daughter was sick all last week. She missed the entire week of school. While she’s not running a fever this week, she’s still fighting through the remnants of her illness. She has a horrible cough and is exhausted by the time she gets home from school.

Unfortunately, when you miss an entire week of middle school, there’s a lot to make up. She’s finally waded through all the homework, but she still has a few quizzes to make up. The whole process of making up work has been frustrating for her. Figuring out what’s missing and remembering to get it turned in has been stressful. Trying to take tests and quizzes over material from two weeks ago as you move on to new material in class is difficult. Honestly, she and I both are ready for it to be Friday.

We’ve had tears every night this week over schoolwork. My daughter is exhausted and so am I. She’s still not feeling 100 percent. Often her attitude has been less than stellar about all the work she’s had to do.

It would be really easy this week to let that attitude slide. And, truly, I’ve offered a lot of grace. But the thing is, even when we don’t feel good, even when we’re tired, it doesn’t excuse poor behavior, and we shouldn’t let our kids think it does.

God doesn’t ask us to follow Him, to become like His Son just when everything is going well. He doesn’t say “Be a witness for me when everything in your world is perfect, but it’s OK to act mean and cranky when things aren’t going well.” He says “Follow me. Become like me. No matter what.”

Paul spent a lot of time in some pretty awful jail cells. Yet he wrote letter after letter from those jail cells proclaiming the goodness of Christ. He shared the good news of Jesus despite his circumstances.

When we let our kids get away with poor behavior because of their circumstances, we’re telling our kids that it’s OK to let our circumstances get in the way. It’s OK to let external things change who we are on the inside, and that’s really not the message we want to send.

When things get tough for our kids and their behavior begins to reflect it, it’s time to take a step back. It’s time to remind them that God is present even the midst of difficult circumstances. It’s time to show them that God can be the source of strength and calm in the middle of their storms.

Because it’s often how we act in the middle of a tough time that says the most about who we are to others. It shows people our character and who we truly are.

When we teach our kids to rely on God when the going gets tough, we teach them that He is present in their lives in the good times and the bad ones. We teach them that when our strength is gone, His just keeps on going. We teach them that their behavior matters no matter how difficult the day. And that’s a lesson worth learning.

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It’s OK to Let Your Weakness Show

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This poor little blog has been ridiculously neglected for the past two weeks. We’re still struggling to adjust to a new normal of both kids in school, me working outside the house two days a week and the new soccer and hockey schedules. Add to that a kid who has been sick for a week, and finding any semblance of a “normal” schedule has been ridiculously difficult.

I know many of you are in the same boat. So much of our life as moms is spent struggling to figure out what normal is going to be. And just when we get it figured out someone gets sick or the schedule changes or something else unexpected happens. Too often we feel like we’re just struggling to get through this one day, never mind the next day or the next week. And we feel like failures because we look around and everyone else seems to have it all together.

We see our friends and acquaintances and we think they must never show up at the wrong time for soccer practice. We watch children piling out of cars in the school dropoff line, and we assume that those moms didn’t have the same struggle getting everyone out the door on time that we did. We show up to work still tucking in our shirts, look around and assume our coworkers didn’t put their makeup on in the car.

But you know what? Everyone struggles. Everyone has days where nothing goes right. Everyone has seasons where they feel like they’re barely making it through the day. We’re just all really good at hiding it and pretending that we have it all together.

Hiding our struggles and failures, though, isn’t what God wants for us. He wants us to be real. He wants us to bring those struggles and frustrations to Him. And He wants us to be honest about them with others. Because it is through our struggles that we learn that we don’t have the strength, the grace, the joy that we need. It is through our struggles that we discover that relying on God is the only way to be successful. It is through our struggles that our friends and acquaintances see God. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

When we refuse to acknowledge that we can’t do it all, when we refuse to make known our struggles, we deny God an opportunity to be seen. We deny ourselves the opportunity to let God use our weakness to strengthen us with His power.

So, today, sweet mom, lay aside the mask. Stop beating yourself up for struggling to find “normal.” Turn your weaknesses over to God, and let Him make you strong. Let others see God’s strength in the midst of your weakness.

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Let Grace Be Their Strength

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So, I wrote about offering our kids grace yesterday. Funny thing. Apparently, God was talking to me.

My younger daughter made the transition to middle school this year. After five years in elementary school and a year of homeschool, she walked into the doors of our local middle school.

She’s made the transition remarkably well. She’s had the usual middle school issues of finding her classes and dealing with a finicky locker, but she’s been mostly organized and managed her assignments well. Until yesterday.

Last night, she discovered she did not know where her social studies homework was. Hopefully, it’s in her locker. If it’s not, she’ll have to take the late work penalty.

I have to admit that I was frustrated with her. Late work in the first couple weeks of school is not a good way to make an impression on your teacher. I really wanted to lecture and let her know how frustrated I was.

But then I remembered yesterday’s blog post. I remembered that this is a huge transition for my daughter. I remembered that she had traveled all weekend to play in a hockey tournament. I remembered that we all make mistakes. And I remembered that sometimes making a mistake is the best way to learn.

You see, this is my daughter who when she was little had to touch the hot pan to believe that it was hot. This is my daughter who has always taken the hard way. This is my daughter who needs the pain of the consequences to appreciate the magnitude of the mistake.

So instead of lecturing last night, I helped her problem solve. We tried to find the worksheet in the online system the school has for assignments. Not there. We tried calling some friends she has in the class to get the questions. No one home. We tried emailing her teacher. No response.

I sent a very frustrated young lady to bed knowing that she would have to take the point deduction for late work. But, you know what? I bet tonight she comes home with all her homework. I bet that she’s super careful about writing down her homework and making sure it’s in her binder in the future.

Because this one experience has taught her more than all the lecturing in the world could teach her. Offering grace from the parent point of view, offering a hug and encouragement, instead of heaping lectures on top of her already hurting heart didn’t take away the consequences of her mistake. That grace, though, gave her the courage to get out of the car this morning and head into the school to face her mistakes.

Because grace doesn’t wipe out our mistakes. It doesn’t do away with the earthly consequences. But grace and love on the magnitude that God provides, gives us the strength to get up in the morning and face the day. When we pour just a small portion of that grace out onto our kids, it does the same for them. They get bolstered not just by God’s grace but by God’s grace given through their parents. And sometimes that’s all they need to have the courage to put one foot in front of the other.

So, the next time our kids make a mistake, we need to let experience be their teacher and let grace be their strength.

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Grace for the Changes

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There’s not been a lot happening in this space the past two weeks. School started. Schedules shifted, and we’ve all been trying to adjust to the new normal that is the school year. Despite having more time alone, it’s been difficult to slot blogging into the new schedule.

When the school year rolls around, it can be tough to get back into the swing of things. It can be difficult to get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there. In the past two weeks, I’ve taken a child to practice at the wrong time, forgotten a breakfast date with a friend and struggled to get my kids out the door on time most mornings. Each time I forgot something or got the time wrong, I felt bad.

Switching from a relaxed summer schedule to the school year one is hard. It takes a while for everyone to get used to the new routine — including us moms. It takes a few weeks to settle into the new normal, and we need to give ourselves and everyone around us some grace until the new normal simply becomes normal.

However, our tendency is often to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake in the schedule. We get impatient when our children or spouses don’t immediately jump on the bandwagon of new practice times, new school times and new dinner times. We get frustrated when our kids don’t remember everything they should from the last school year. We get annoyed when our new schedule doesn’t work like we think it should.

Especially when making the switch from summer to school year, we need grace — for our families and for ourselves. Grace is a wonderful and amazing thing. It overlooks the shortcomings of others. It lets us love each other despite our failings. It makes us feel whole even when we screw up. But to offer grace to ourselves and our families, we have to be filled up with God’s grace — every day.

God offers His grace to us all the time. He never runs out. It’s always available. All we have to do is accept it. All we have to do is let it fill us up until we’re overflowing with it. Because I don’t have enough grace to give for all the mistakes and frustrations found in the switch to the school-year schedule. But God does. All I have to do is tap into it.

So, as you make the switch from summertime to school days, remember to include grace in that switch. Remember it takes time to get it all figured out. Remember that God gives you grace every day so that you can offer it to others.

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Gaining Perspective on Losing

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My older daughter played her first soccer game of the season on Saturday. She was so excited, dressed in her uniform at 9 a.m. for a 12:45 game. She couldn’t wait to get on the field.

It didn’t take long for things to go sour. She forgot her conflict jersey (and we needed them). Her first few minutes on the field, she made several mistakes. Her team lost 6-1, and she came off the field discouraged and almost in tears.

Having a bad game and losing is never fun. Knowing that you didn’t play to the best of your ability and let those around you down hurts. Making mistakes is tough.

My daughter had a rough rest of the afternoon and evening. She still had to referee two games in hot, humid weather. She didn’t feel all that great. And she kept reliving her mistakes in the game — over and over again.

But here’s the thing: my daughter is a solid soccer player. She doesn’t often have games like this. When she makes a mistake, she puts her head down and tries harder next time. By the second half of her game, she was playing better and made some good plays. She was part of setting up her team’s only goal.

She couldn’t see any of that, though. All she could hear in her head was her coach saying the defense had let the team down. All she could think about were the plays she messed up. All she could focus on was whether she’d get another chance to do better.

When we make mistakes, it’s sometimes hard to regain perspective. And it’s especially hard if you’re 13 and still learning what perspective even is. Which is why our kids have us.

Part of our job as parents is to help give our kids perspective. It’s to help them understand that one bad day, one bad game isn’t the end of the world. It’s to remind them that there will be another chance, another day, another game to get it right. It’s to pull their focus off of themselves and to get them to focus on the bigger picture.

Because that’s how God treats us. He sees our mistakes. He knows our tendency to beat ourselves up over the past. But He doesn’t dwell on those things. He doesn’t keep reminding us of them. He forgives us and moves on. He separates our sin from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12)

So, no matter what it is that our kids are struggling to get over — a big game loss, a mistake at school or a fight with a friend — it’s important that we help them find perspective, that we help them see that there will be another chance. Because dwelling on mistakes doesn’t help. Learning from them does.

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A First Day of School Prayer

School 2014

I dropped both my girls off at middle school this morning for their first full day of school. I’m having a little trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I have a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader. I love the fact that they are growing up into beautiful, compassionate young ladies, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I miss the little girls they once were.

As they head off to school this year, here’s what I’m praying for them.

A First Day of School Prayer

My precious children,

You’re growing up so quickly. I look at you standing there proud and tall in your carefully chosen first-day-of-school outfit, and I see the little girls that just yesterday I dropped off at kindergarten for the first time. Now, we’re starting and finishing middle school. I love you both so much and can’t wait to see what God has in store for you. Here’s what I’m praying for you this year.

I pray:

That your locker would open on the first try.

That you would find and foster true friendships.

That you would be yourself.

That you would always know that you are never alone and God is walking the hallways with you.

That you would learn new things and have new adventures.

That you would make wise choices based on the things God thinks are important, not the things your friends think are important.

That you would laugh often.

That you would have teachers who inspire you to work harder and dream bigger.

That you would love others and show kindness and compassion to everyone you meet.

That you would encourage those around you.

That you would find a subject that sparks the imagination and challenges you.

That you would be a light in the darkness of this imperfect world.

That you would never be afraid to stand up for what’s right.

That you would be a champion of those who are weaker than you.

That you would live fully and enjoy the abundant life that God promises you.

That no matter how tough the day, how harsh the words, that you would know you are loved.

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Discussing Robin Williams

Robin Williams died yesterday. The man who brought so much laughter to this world couldn’t find any in his own life and killed himself.

I had no plans to blog about this. As tragic and sad as it is, it wasn’t something I felt I needed to address. Until this morning. My younger daughter crawled into my bed as I was listening to the news on the radio.

“So, that actor guy died?” she said.

“Yes,” I answered.

“How did he die?”

“He killed himself.”

“Why would someone do that?”

And that’s the question. Why would someone who appeared to have so much to live for fall into a pit of despair so deep that there was no way for him to see through the darkness?

At some point in their lives, our kids are going to know someone who is depressed. They’re probably going to be touched by suicide in some form. My first experience came in high school when a guy I was in band with committed suicide. I was a sophomore in high school and completely shocked. I had no idea he was depressed. I had no idea there was deep pain hiding behind a quiet, shy demeanor. I had no idea.

And that’s why we need to talk with our kids about suicide, perhaps using the death of this famous actor as a springboard for that conversation. It would be so much easier just to gloss it over, just to ignore it because this is a tough subject.

The truth is, though, that depression and suicide are topics our kids need to know about. They need to know that what they see on the outside of a person isn’t always a good indicator of how they feel on the inside. They need to know that their words and actions matter and that they can wound or heal with those words and actions. They need to know that depression is an illness; it’s not something that people choose. They need to know that when a friend struggles to live with depression, it truly is a fight for survival.

And, most importantly, our kids need to know that it’s not something to hide. They need to know that it’s not shameful to ask for help. They need to know that it’s OK to bring in an adult if they or a friend are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. They need to know that God isn’t missing from the situation. Because knowing these things can save a life.

So, don’t hesitate to talk to your kids about depression or suicide. Don’t skirt around the subject. Bring it up. Shed light into the dark places. Pray for your friends who struggle. Look for ways you can help. Because you just might save a life by doing so.

Categories: Death | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

When Sports Overwhelm

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My girls both play sports competitively. It means we spend a lot of time and money for them to play. And that’s fine. It’s a choice we’ve made to let our girls follow their passions. But there comes a moment when we have to say enough is enough. We reached that point this summer.

My older daughter wanted to play on two soccer teams this fall, upping her league games from eight to 16. She also wanted to try out for the Olympic Development Program for our state. My younger daughter spent the summer traveling to Minnesota to play hockey on a girls’ team. It was not the best experience for her or us. The local hockey program recently told us they’re changing the program for the fall and doing away with the minimal travel option they’ve had in the past. Her options now are to play recreational hockey or to play on a team that double the travel and the cost of last year.

My husband and I have finally decided to say enough is enough. We miss our family. We miss going on vacation to a place that doesn’t involve the girls playing games. We miss having weekends at home. We’re still willing to support our kids in their sports, but we’re no longer willing to simply go along with the crowd. We’re no longer willing to have our lives and our marriage consumed by constantly going in different directions.

Don’t get me wrong, our girls will still be playing their sports. We’ll just be a bit more judicious about the choices we make. Our older daughter is not double rostering this fall or trying out for the Olympic Development Program. Our younger daughter won’t be playing on the travel team.

Because, here’s the thing: I can’t raise my kids and create a family unit if my family is constantly split up going in separate directions. I can’t “train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6)” if my kids are never around me. I can’t teach my kids about God “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:7)” if I’m never doing those things with my kids.

It’s hard to tell our kids no, especially when everyone they know is doing the things they want to be doing. However, sometimes we have to make the tough decisions that protect our families — even if it comes at the expense of upsetting our kids.

In our community, it’s really easy to get trapped in the idea that our kids will be “behind” if they don’t get the right training or spend the right number of hours playing their sport, learning an instrument or doing another activity. It’s easy to get caught up trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”

But isn’t it more important that we teach our kids the things they’re going to need to know to live their lives following God? Isn’t it more important that we be the ones pouring wisdom and love into them while they’re in our care?

The days we have to raise our kids are fleeting, and we need to choose how to use those days well. Sometimes that means pulling back and creating space and time to do that.

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Time to Just Be

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I had a little meltdown on Sunday. It was one of those days where everything was just a little bit off. My husband and I couldn’t seem to get on the same page. My girls were standing on my last nerve. Everything was simply overwhelming.

So I cried. I cried because I felt completely inadequate. I cried because I was overwhelmed. I cried because I simply didn’t know where to start to fix things.

At this time last year, I knew my life was going to change. It was going to be nutty and chaotic and frustrating and beautiful. I knew that having a child at home all year was going to be the best thing I ever did but also the hardest. I didn’t know just how long constantly trying to be everything to everyone was going to take to catch up with me.

Apparently, it took nearly a year. Because as much as we accomplished in that year, as awesome as it is that my daughter is in a better place, as much as God worked, I had no idea how tired and overwhelmed I had become. I had no idea how much trying to do it all and simply putting one foot in front of the other every day would eventually wear away at my ability to continue doing that.

Don’t get me wrong. God’s grace is sufficient for every day, but when you’re in the midst of a soul-wearying year — whether it’s because you’ve gone to work outside the home, had a new baby, are caring for an elderly parent, or are simply in the midst of troubled times with your kids or in your marriage — there’s going to come a point where you body and soul simply say “Enough!”

And that’s where I was on Sunday. I’ve been feeling lethargic all summer. I haven’t done a lot of the things I’ve normally done. I haven’t been the “fun” mom. I haven’t been the productive freelancer. I haven’t been a great wife. I’ve simply needed some downtime. I’ve needed to just be.

But somewhere in the midst of just “being” I forgot to be with the One who fills me up. Instead of turning to the One who has all the energy and grace I’ll ever need, it’s been easy to simply say that I’m owed some time for myself. But what I really need is time with the only One who can fill me up and give me everything that I need.

So, today, I’m going to start off my day with some much needed time — time with the God who loves me, time with the One who can fill up the empty places, time with the God of the universe who can make me the fun mom, the productive freelancer, the insightful blogger and the great wife.

Because I don’t have to do all those things myself. I simply have to make time to be with the One who can make me those things.

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