Navigating the Fog: Practicing Routine Heart Checks through Conversations with God

navigating the fog (3)Moments after the attendant handed us our blended Butterfinger milkshakes, my youth pastor handed them back through the same window. “These are too low,” he pointed out, “Could you please top them off? 

I stared at him, speechless at the audacity of his words. He turned to me. “They were too low,” he repeated. As we thanked the attendant and pulled away with our newly topped-off shakes, he remarked, “You’re thirsty.”

Confused, I thought he was talking about a physical need, perhaps explaining his insistence on my paper cup being filled to the very top. But as he continued, I realized he was referring to my meltdown earlier that afternoon, the one eliciting the pit stop for shakes in the first place.

“Your spiritual tank is running low.”

He said it matter-of-factly, as if it should have been obvious to me. But it wasn’t. My anxiety over the pressures of high school had distracted me from my spiritual practices of prayer and worship. In the midst of my senior year, the variables at stake overwhelmed me: the unknown of life after high school, my self-imposed standards for a perfect GPA, my spinal fusion and the awkward hinged body brace I wore that year, my extracurricular activities, and my part-time job. 

Having a youth mentor at such a turbulent, impressionable time in my life was critical for my spiritual formation. But who fills that role for me now? Is it my husband? My pastor? A life group? My faith will always have room for growth; it is a life-long journey in which I am the student. With social media at my fingertips, I could find an influencer to follow, or I can look to the people in my own life, learning so much from those who have gone before me and those who walk alongside me. 

The unknown can be overwhelming, and staying in my comfort zone becomes more and more enticing. Before we plow ahead, or remain in the safety of our comfort zones, we need to intentionally set aside time to do a heart check, asking ourselves hard questions. Establish this heart check as a regular practice. What will yours look like? Will you write out your thoughts or process them with a friend? Consider whose input might have value in your conversations with God, whether it comes from a spouse, children, parents, friends, a counselor, or other key voices. Will you set aside time for this reflection seasonally, annually, monthly, or at another consistent interval? What problems are you looking to solve? 

First, I examine my priorities. What truly matters, and am I making space for these things? How am I spending my time and energy? Are they congruent? If not, what can I do to realign my priorities and my time? Identify pain points and note what has worked well. 

I also reflect on my motivation. Do earthly things motivate me, such as achievement, approval, or money? Where does God fit in? Am I feeling content, complacent, or scared? Consider where you might be able to hold back and allow someone else to step in with his or her gifts. Are you already stretched too thin, or are you better-equipped to serve elsewhere? 

Nearly 20 years after my drive-through top-off, I wake up, stiff from the air mattress in my husband’s old Eagle Scout tent, camping with my family of five. I’m thirsty again. I continue to ask myself these hard questions.

Is this life I’ve built the one I want to continue to build? Are there things I can adjust, or do I need a foundational shift? Is my heart here where my feet are planted, or am I restless for a different path, one where I feel more fulfilled in my calling?

I unzip the tent, careful not to wake my light sleepers, ages two, five, and seven. Standing at the lake’s shore, I shift my feet ever so slightly, trapping the dazzling morning sun behind one of the sweeping pines, backlighting its needles into precise silhouettes. Where do I need to stand to allow God’s radiance to embolden me in this way? 

I question my footing and whether I have enough faith to remain in one place long enough to allow God to shine in and through me, or whether my tendency for restlessness causes me to leap too soon. Am I being true to my identity in Christ? This is the self-reflection I need during this regular exercise. Do my priorities align with my identity in Christ? Is my time spent running after what He is nudging me to do?

Am I restless because I wonder if a better opportunity will come along?  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV). How do we know whether to plant ourselves where we are, or to uproot and walk? Am I listening to God’s directives, or am I striving for control? What can I surrender to God? 

Am I happy? Am I trying so hard to obtain a different life for me and my family that I am not enjoying what I have now?

Poised over my journal on a wooden bench at the water’s edge, my pen can’t keep up with these racing questions. Am I becoming who the world wants me to become, or who God wants me to become? Am I, in my mid-thirties, too young to have regrets? At the same time, am I too old to pursue new ventures? Should I be grateful for what I have, for what I’ve already built for myself? Is there only one “right” path for me? People move all the time; how do they start over? Would I be okay starting over? Who would support me? What would people think? Am I in too far deep to unravel it all and step into something else? I’m not a risk-taker; what if I fail? If this new venture doesn’t work, will I be able to come back? I vacillate between my comfort zone and the unknown. 

I don’t know what lies ahead, but God draws me out from my questions. He silences my panicked thoughts. He beckons me to listen. Right here on this campsite with no phone service and my family stirring in the tent, He has my captive audience. I bow my head. 

“This is your life,” He gestures to me, to the sounds of my boys. “Home is not confined to the walls you reside inside, but is defined by the lives you have created inside. It isn’t going to be easy.” 

What isn’t going to be easy? Is this His way of calling me to step out, or is this my own rationalization, trying to discern what to do next?

“Watch me. Let me take the lead.” I notice a small fishing boat tied a few yards away, rowed here from the boat launch across the lake. For whatever reason, it is tied here for this brief time. I imagine God with the oars as I untie the knots. God waits for me to settle in, surrendering to His directive. 

“Lord, where are we going today?” I question. He doesn’t answer, rowing into the great expanse of fog, able to see further than my limited vision. “I won’t let you down,” He reassures me, “just stay with Me.” The boat doesn’t follow a track. It glides along the lake, slicing its path through blurry waters, leaving only its wake. 

The full afternoon sun delivers sparkling clarity across the lake. But after a day oscillating between slow progress forward and hints of clarity, the next morning sweeps a new blanket of fog onto the lake, God’s invitation to join Him in the boat again. This time, I step in the boat with more confidence, knowing Who is at the helm, but not knowing where we are going. My faith assures me I will be delivered safely to shore again at His appointed time. I’ve done this before, not on this exact path, but with my same God, and we will continue it again, every day, through the morning fog and afternoon clarity, and evening darkness, establishing these sacred rhythms of yielding and trust, leading and following, praying and listening, resting and stepping out, always leaving a wake for those who follow behind.

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I haven’t always gotten in the boat when He’s offered. Unable to discern through the fog on my own, I’ve struggled to relinquish control at times. I’ve stayed in safe harbor, not changing or growing. I’ve felt safe — content, even, but not fulfilled. But when I step off-shore, into the boat, trusting His vision to guide me, we journey together, my heart aligned with His. He calls the fog to rise from the surface of the moving waters in His time. I wake each morning, hungry for this passage with Him, my Father. I trust His pattern of fog and clarity. Sometimes entire seasons bring only fog. But I am ready for whatever the day brings, for what He reveals as we journey together into the unknown. 

I am filled. 

Racing the Storm: Spiritual Self-Care for Motherhood

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My back was to the storm cloud when I heard the initial thunder. I should have been more aware; my husband had mentioned we wouldn’t have much time on the kayaks before the storm rolled in. I was distracted between the three little bodies who needed sunscreen and the custom-order life jacket that we needed to exchange on the way to the reservoir. By the time we dipped our kayaks into the water, it was nearly lunchtime and consequently, almost naptime. 

Our leisurely pace on the water and my concentration on being present in the moment with my boys, pointing out dragonflies and honeysuckle, distracted me. When the thunder offered its first warning, I used every ounce of strength to abruptly turn my vessel 180 degrees toward shore. I struggled to maintain momentum of the long, heavy kayak, weighed down with an additional passenger who did not understand our rush.

“What does it feel like to be electrocuted?” he wondered aloud.

I didn’t want to find out as my husband and I raced our kayaks across the reservoir. Suddenly, I felt like a novice at what appears to be a leisurely, uncomplicated sport. It was then that I noticed all the other kayaks were nowhere in sight; their owners had all heeded the storm’s early cues and headed back sooner. Or maybe their timing was just lucky, and they were all now eating lunch.

Regardless, the five of us in our two kayaks were the only ones still out. My arms were exhausted even as I rejoiced that yesterday’s trampoline park excursion left only my legs sore.

We closed in on the shore, glancing back at the black clouds, an unspoken race against Mother Nature.

I believed my kayak could beat the clouds, but their fury was mounting as they arrived above us. I saw the raindrops on the glassy surface of the water long before I felt them, thousands of tiny droplets creating concentric circles. Next, I heard the wall of rain. A thin white running cap was the only barrier between me and those clouds. Despite managing to remain dry during our outing on the water, I was drenched in seconds, just minutes from shore. There was a small queue of other canoes, boats, kayaks, and paddleboards at the loading dock, but everyone was in a rush to get to shore, to solid ground and into their vehicles, so we didn’t wait long. We kept our life jackets on in lieu of the raincoats we had left behind in the truck. 

The summer rain was invigorating, breathing a sudden sense of urgency into our leisurely outing. We huddled around our kayaks as my husband left to retrieve the truck. I contemplated taking shelter under a tree but feared lightning strike. The truck arrived shortly after, and we hoisted three dripping boys into the truck. They squealed with delight in its shelter while scrambling for their towels and dry clothes. The air had gotten cooler and we still needed to load the kayaks and paddles. We divvied out belated lunches. The planner in me knew we were pushing our luck, cutting into naptime. Sure enough, one of our kids threw a tantrum over what we had packed for him. His exaggerated meltdown warranted pulling over, rain and all, and necessitated a long talk on the side of the road, only a few hundred yards from the reservoir’s entrance. Finally, we resumed the drive home.

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I love kayaking, I love rainy days and my birthday and storms and my boys, but somehow the combination of all of it overwhelmed me and I exploded. My words crushed. Even worse, they had little effect on the intended four-year-old recipient, who response was to spit on me (quite a feat from the backseat!). We pulled over again.  I stayed in the truck, my fuse too short in the heat of the moment, while my husband talked to him once again.

I wish, for the sake of closure, that this is where I’d now offer a tidy lesson I learned from all of this, the parenting changes I made, the self-perspective I gained. But I was still at a loss for how to handle my tongue and his, when they clash constantly, all day every day, despite my own best school counselor parenting advice. We’ve tried it all — routines, consistency, individual time and attention, special “helper” jobs, a designated calm-down area, dietary changes, sports, his own room, trips to work with daddy, and heart-to-hearts. 

I prayed fervently over this delicate stage of his life and started over with incorporating the Jesus Storybook Bible in our nightly routines. Initially, bedtime remained chaotic, the boys vying for our attention and crawling over each other on my son’s queen-sized sheets as my husband read from the Bible. Consistency in this daily habit was the only way to create the quiet family time I envisioned. 

I turn to my own Bible for answers. For reassurance. For a reset. I read throughout Proverbs about the tongue and its life-giving tendencies.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21, NIV).”

I think about the discontent I sometimes feel in my own home, the place where I should be able to recharge. I wonder if I am placing my energies into the wrong places, searching for distractions in fleeting ideas: a new dog, a new home, a new career path, when really what refills me lies written across the thin pages of my leather-bound Bible, its truths sustaining through all time and certainly through thousands of weary, exasperated mothers before me. 

I seesaw between taking action, making plans to restore order at home, but I know that’s not what I need. I need to be listening more, grounding myself and my family in the reassurances of Jesus, His promises of life and truth. His calming presence. His unconditional love. Jesus wants my time and attention even more than my four-year-old craves mine. 

For all the energy I exert analyzing how I spend my time, I sometimes neglect to recognize its place in my walk with God. Doesn’t He crave my time and attention, too? Shouldn’t I be pursuing His? He’s rolling out all the stops for me if I’d just open my heart to notice it. He comes in the fog rolling in, and I shouldn’t be running away. 

Long after bedtime on his seventh birthday, my oldest son padded downstairs and caught me writing him a birthday letter in his baby book. He asked to sit with me, and he poured over each page. I read my letters aloud to him. He asked me to record his height on his growth chart ruler. All these simple mile-markers I established back when I had all the time in the world, those things that hold meaning and our memories and milestones, the moments I noticed, bits and pieces of ourselves and of our past and what we are made of. These moments are always there, if I could just take the time to look up and really notice. And to think, if I had said no when he came downstairs that night, I would have missed that precious time together. What else have I missed, then, when I say no to God and raced onward with my own plans for my time? How do I begin to say yes when the path ahead is hazy at best? 

What thunderclouds am I trying to outrace, when I could be dancing in the rain?

 

Notes from a Recovering Perfectionist

Notes from a Recovering Perfectionist

Party day had arrived. I had been planning my son’s first birthday for months. I mailed handmade invitations weeks in advance to 40 people, and every one of them was coming. Cupcakes encircled a homemade frosted gold sandcastle cake complete with ice cream cone turrets and handmade sand dollar cookies. A red captain’s wheel hung on the wall, framing month-by-month photos of my son. Family who arrived early were put to work, putting the finishing touches on Pinterest-inspired fruit skewers and croissants disguised as small crabs. As guests continued to arrive, my heart raced, knowing things weren’t quite finished. I was focused on the presentation and not on those who came over to celebrate the birth and life of my baby boy. Instead, guests were ambushed with more food than they could ever eat, a video slideshow, dessert options for days, and favor bags stuffed with more sand dollar cookies. 

I had placed my worth as a mother in the presentation of this particular party. I wince, remembering the undue stress I had created for myself, a new mom, the day of his party, which happened to be my own 29th birthday. 

Several years into motherhood, I realized I could simply let go of striving for perfection, and it was freeing. My definition of hospitality changed. I was not stressed when friends came over. Allowing myself to be vulnerable strengthened my friendships. My house is never immaculate and rarely Instagram-worthy, but I am comfortable in it. I now enjoy hosting birthday parties without the expectations. I’ve learned to ask for help and be okay with delegating. I still love themed parties, but I try to do a few things well, instead of every idea perfectly.

Perfectionism not only impacts me and others around me, but it also creates a barrier to accessing God’s unconditional grace.

When I am around other perfectionists, this tendency is especially difficult to shed. My own narrative tells me that the expectation is still there. But freeing myself from the burden to always be right, always appear put-together, and always complete the perfect DIY project showed me how impossible it was to not only uphold that standard, but also how unsettling it was for others around me. The appearance of maintaining a perfect life creates an invisible barrier in relationships. 

In the past, perfectionism has silenced me from sharing my gifts out of fear of rejection, worried people would only see the flaws. How often do we withhold our gifts out of fear of judgment, imperfection, or vulnerability, paralyzed from sharing our dreams, offering plans, or expressing hopes? Perfectionism does not allow room for others until the presentation is ready.

Winston Churchill approached his creative outlet with an attitude of grace: 

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” (61-62, Painting as a Pastime)

Perfectionism scripts an unfair narrative, an unrealistic expectation that everyone is judging, and the self-fulfilling prophecy takes over. These insecurities make trying new things especially difficult.

Perfectionism makes it hard to delegate tasks, especially if you fear they won’t be completed the way you would have or be done perfectly. You may even be asked to do more because you appear to have it all together, which can be toxic when paired with people-pleasing tendencies.

These impossible standards infiltrated every area of life, even my self-worth. It was hard to feel as if I was doing anything well or ever completing a task. The piles of unfinished projects and the lists of unfinished tasks became overwhelming. Suddenly I was drowning, realizing I’d lost control, my old standards completely unattainable in my current season. I used to have time to pay attention to detail and now we’re getting by with the bare minimum. Somewhere along the line, we’ve attached our self-worth to all of it, to everything that has been left undone.  

I’ve learned to be gentle with myself. It is unfair to uphold the same standards I had before kids. I have to let go of the anxiety tied to leaving loose ends undone, my projects unfinished. It is unfair to compare myself to someone who has a completely different life than I have, with access to other means and more flexibility with time.

To put it simply, we miss out. Waiting for the perfect time to do something might mean that we never burn the fancy candle, we never eat the souvenir chocolate, or we never use the good towels. We never paint the room because we can’t decide on the perfect paint color. We put off stepping into our dreams because we don’t know what lies beyond the fog.

Perfectionism impacts those around us as well. It perpetuates an unrealistic impression that things come easily, which makes others compare, doubt themselves, or worse– give up entirely because they feel as if they can’t compete. It sets an unhealthy and unrealistic standard. Perfectionists might abandon a hobby or passion if someone else is already better at it. Maybe you are comparing yourself to an expert and abandon your “messy middle” of learning something new. What a tragedy to give up an interest or passion simply because you think you are not the best. Perfectionism creates an unspoken precedent that if you are not the best, it’s not worth doing. It causes us to abandon the hobbies that made us come alive. It not only robs us of those passions, but it robs others of experiencing our God-given gifts.

Setting an expectation of perfectionism imposes a fear on others that they will never measure up, they’ll never be good enough, and that if they aren’t the best, they shouldn’t even try. I was encouraged to take a safe path, to take the first job I was ever offered instead of holding out for my dream career, one highly sought-after by creatives. If that career was the gold standard, it was that or nothing. Two decades later, I know there were hundreds of opportunities to use those creative skills. It saddens me that I believed the untruth that if I couldn’t be selected by the best, I shouldn’t even try. I placed my creative outlet on the backburner, something once so life-giving, my passion diminished under a gold standard of perfection. 

I also consider the opportunities I missed simply because I was a beginner. I turned down ski trips with my youth group because I had never skied– I didn’t want to ask for help, slow anyone else down, or potentially make a fool of myself, as if my ability to ski was a reflection of me. It’s exhausting to maintain a facade that I can do it all myself, I have everything under control, I have it all together. That person is not real and is not approachable. It fosters an unhealthy expectation for other women and exacerbates a culture of comparison that is spawned largely by social media. Accepting others’ offers to help and allowing ourselves to be teachable lifts the invisible burden of perfection from our shoulders.

Is there something you’ve never pursued because you were afraid to ask for help and afraid to be the newbie, the one who didn’t know what to do and didn’t have the right tools to start? Was it a new hobby, a new sport, a new gym membership, or a new committee? Not allowing ourselves to try something new, to be teachable, to fail, or to be vulnerable limits our opportunities. What have we avoided simply because we don’t know how to start?

Allow room for slow growth. Winston Churchill continued, 

“Try it, then, before it is too late and before you mock at me. Try it while there is time to overcome the preliminary difficulties. Learn enough of the language in your prime to open this new literature to your age. Plant a garden in which you can sit when digging days are done. It may be only a small garden, but you will see it grow. Year by year it will bloom and ripen. Year by year it will be better cultivated.” (62, Painting as a Pastime).

We are raised in a competitive culture that values being the best. When I share with my students that I ran a marathon, they always ask if I won. They look perplexed if I laugh and say no, that there were thousands of other runners and I wasn’t even trying to win. 

“Well, did you at least come in second?”

These are the teachable moments, opportunities to share that there is more to running a marathon than coming in first, that you can set a goal and follow-through and be proud of yourself for finishing what you set out to do. Those months of marathon training shaped me in ways I wouldn’t have ever known unless I tried and finished.

When my boys see me appreciating simplicity, a slower pace, and learning from my mistakes, I am demonstrating God’s grace. On the last day of kindergarten, my five-year-old won the “Problem Solver” award. He wants to be an engineer someday, and I know that I need to give him the space to tinker and figure things out instead of fixing everything for him. Not a day goes by that I don’t tell my boys I love them and am proud of them not only for their achievements and accomplishments, but also for the things I want them to come to value– for being helpful, kind, a good friend, including others, and a good brother– qualities that matter to me.

Perfectionism creates a reliance on self, not on God. We need to allow ourselves to accept the grace and unconditional love that God gives us every day, in every season. We must allow ourselves to rest, as He did in Genesis 1:31, and call it good–call it good enough–and call it finished: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day” (NIV). Perfection left me trying to please others instead of God. 

Consider these verses:

“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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV)

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12, NIV)

The way I love my boys doesn’t even begin to skim the surface of how much God loves me. As I carefully unpack these thoughts, considering God’s great love frees me from the things that don’t even really matter, and I pause in reverence. God placed unique desires on my heart. My boys adore me, so why am I trying to live up to someone else’s expectations? Why am I so caught up in the details when it is our relationship with Him that matters? Our sinful nature necessitates this relationship, and acknowledging our own sin draws us closer to Him. 

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:8-11, NIV)

Letting go of perfection was a slow process, but it was freeing not only to me, but to my family and the people around me. It allowed me to be vulnerable and helped me to step back and define what truly matters. My boys did not need perfect birthday parties, they just wanted to share their day with people who love them and eat cake! Now I give myself permission to delegate, allowing others to use their God-given gifts. Letting go allowed me to step out of my comfort zone to finally pursue my God-given dreams.

Summer Routines with Kids After Vacation

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Photo credit: The Joyful Life Magazine

We are home for the first time this month after a wonderful vacation to Ireland, where we rented a car and drove clockwise around almost the entire country. My husband adjusted to driving manual on the left side of the road (on the right side of the car) through harrowing narrow lanes, 2-lane roundabouts, and one-way city streets.

Bringing my oldest son along at the last minute was the best decision we could have made. I loved getting to know him so much better one-on-one and seeing a foreign country through his eyes. He asked thoughtful questions and noticed every quirky difference (like paying coins to use public bathrooms!) and even made a few friends. Of course everyone thought he was a local.

I cannot thank my parents enough for keeping our youngest 2 entertained with several trips to Busch Gardens and playtime with cousins and aunts and uncles and filling their home with boys and noise for 16 days. I still remember getting to do this with my grandparents when I was little while my parents traveled. It was truly a win-win for everyone.

Part of the reason I wanted this trip was to see places in Ireland I didn’t see during my last visit, but the main reason was because I just needed a physical break. I have been pregnant/nursing/miscarrying babies (many times, 2 of these at once) for 8 straight years without a one single day’s break, and I wanted to feel like myself again. This trip gave me a clear head and an open mind and a chance to just feel like myself again. I pumped milk the entire trip and joined a few Irish mums groups to donate it while traveling (sadly with no luck), but having a clear head to be grounded and mindful and experience another country with all 5 senses was such a gift. I’m still pinching myself that we made it happen.

Coming back to the States has been a little culture-shock, not only for the subtle differences in everyday life between the two cultures and the 5-hour time difference, but also because I’m back to juggling all 3 boys again for the summer. It was amazing to have undivided time with my oldest without the sibling rivalry, the stopping for naptime, or the constant begging for snacks. For 16 days, I didn’t feel like I was herding cats and failing at staying a step ahead of my kids. We could go seamlessly from one activity to another for an entire day without stopping for naps or to change diapers and clean up messes. Just now, for example, I cleaned a yellow substance dripping down my 2-year-old’s legs and it took several minutes to realize that it wasn’t from his diaper but in fact from PEANUT BUTTER HE HAD BLOWN INTO A BALLOON AND THEN DRIPPED OUT IN LIQUID FORM ALL OVER HIMSELF AND THE CARPET. I had almost forgotten how much they keep me on my toes, so it’s an adjustment for all of us to get back into our normal routines. I am so grateful for all of these little and big moments, but it’s still an adjustment nevertheless.

Back in January when I was planning our Ireland trip, I was also writing some suggestions to myself (and other moms) about ideas for device-free summer activities for kids. I am taking my own advice now that it’s out in print in the June 2019 Surrender issue of The Joyful Life Magazine. I am so grateful that I wrote this list because I am using it now to stay one step ahead of my kids this summer with creative ideas and activities (and plenty of room for down time and imagination).

Have you ordered your copy of The Joyful Life Magazine’s June 2019 Surrender issue yet?

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Photo credit: The Joyful Life Magazine

I’d be honored if you check it out — this issue is gorgeous!

 

Vulnerability on Mother’s Day

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May 8, 2016 – It was Mothers Day, and I was in tears. For the fourth year in a row, I found myself in a vulnerable place. I texted five mom friends that night and realized we all found ourselves in difficult places on what was supposed to be our holiday.

These sorts of holidays set a standard of expectation that seem to bring to light some of our greatest insecurities, the ones we especially try to squelch on these special days, the same way in which Valentines Day often and brutally singles out singles.

I was desperate for alone time.

In my wallowing, I began to doubt myself: How does my husband put up with me? Am I worthy of God’s love? Do the terrible twos reflect my worth as a mom?  

As mothers, we may feel as if we fall short in all areas of life, despite our best efforts. We feel invisible, insignificant. We want to regain control even as we’re spread thinner and thinner across our roles. When I am barely scraping by on two hours of sleep, I fear the place of irritability and irrational thoughts  my doubts carry me. Why do I maintain a facade of confidence as if I have any inkling of what I’m doing trying to wrangle a few toddlers?

I dread asking for help and get frustrated when I’m misunderstood. I’m not even striving for perfection; I would just like to function on all cylinders like I did before having kids, when my bar was set much higher because it could be.

Where am I? What is missing? What might God be using to reveal to me?

In “Making a World of Difference Right Where We Are,” Deidra Riggs wrote, “The seeds of our gifts were planted in us as young children…I can use them to grow into my ministry.” Writing is my best form of worship. It is God’s gift for me to steward, and He also wants me to give it back to Him in my own quiet times. Writing has always focused my attention on God as I pray–it’s much harder to be distracted if I am writing my prayers. Although not everything has to be formally published, I have become more confident in sharing my words, especially since granting myself permission to call myself a writer. I have slowly and intentionally learned each “next right thing,” as Emily P. Freeman calls it, by allowing myself permission to admit to not knowing, but commit to finding out each new step of the writing process as it began to unfold. It wasn’t not long after that I became pregnant with my third son. That pregnancy would lead me on a 19-month journey that eventually brought me right back to this statement again.

If I knew what all I still have left to learn in my calling, I’d be drowning, discouraged at the work before me. But God’s glorious fog hides all of that, leading us forward to see only the very next steps, encouraging us to follow Him, to see the next step, and the next, and the next. That in-and-of-itself is a gift. Curiosity drives me forward each time, until I learn that step and move onto the next. And in the meantime, I’m learning to practice mindfulness and gratitude to be content right where I am.

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. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV).