Grace to An Imperfect Mom

225386_898597816168_55713931_42724790_2476659_nYesterday was just one of those days in motherhood. My three kiddos were extremely demanding, whiny, needy, disobedient, and hard to handle.

And I didn’t have much to give them. I have felt that way a lot lately being 29 weeks pregnant. I have felt like the imperfect mom a lot. But God always has a way of saving us when we feel like we’re at the end of our rope.

I remembered I had a bridesmaid dress fitting for my sister-in-law’s upcoming wedding. So last minute I asked my wonderful neighbors Angela and Aimee if they could help watch the kids. They got back to me immediately, were over in just a few hours, and held down the fort. Within only 10 minutes of driving down the interstate alone, I felt relief and like I could actually be a good mom when I returned.

That day I had also been struggling with lonliness and body image- two things I don’t struggle with regularly but do every once in a while. When I got to Alfred Angelo and tried on my dress, I opened the fitting room door to show the lady who did my alterations. We talked about how this was my fourth pregnancy and how my belly would grow more in the next few weeks before the wedding. A mom with her daughter overheard us and yells over at me, “This is your fourth pregnancy?” Her jaw dropped.

I wasn’t sure what she was meaning in her tone of voice.

“Yes it is, do you think that’s crazy?” I asked.

“No, you look so good!” she responded. “It looks like this is your first! I can’t believe it!”

I laughed and said thank you. It was reassuring that maybe I didn’t look like a whale afterall. The drive on the way back home was so pleasant and when I walked in the door, Angela and Aimee surprised me and had cleaned the whole downstairs of my house! They picked up everything on the floor, folded 2 big baskets of laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, cleaned my daughter’s nursery, picked up the entire playroom, organized books and crafts on the shelf, and more.

They did all of this while watching their kids and mine (a total of 6 little ones).

My husband had also gotten home and picked up some needed groceries and surprised me with a dozen red roses.

I was amazed at Angela and Aimee’s generosity and thoughtfulness. They served me with their time and mad cleaning skills and helped lift me up. And who doesn’t always appreciate flowers from their husband to know he really does care?

I had no idea all of that was coming my way, but God did. He reminded me that He was there and working and cared about how I felt and the neverending demands of raising and investing in your children.

I don’t know where you’re at in your motherhood journey but I’m guessing that if you’re like me, you need more time to yourself. You need more time with your husband. Maybe you struggle with yelling, anger, impatience, balancing work and being at home, depression, finding real community, or comparing yourself to other moms and friends.

Maybe you struggle with all the expectations that come with Mother’s Day approaching. The reality is that our kids don’t always show their love and obedience to us even on that day. And we might even get in an argument with our husband on the way to church. I’m pretty sure that happened to us last Mother’s Day.

I think it’s safe to say that as Mommas we need to let go of expectations, our failures, insecurities, and our dreams of perfection and allow God’s grace to shower us like a cool, refreshing rain after the scorching summer heat.

His love is there to draw upon whenever we need it and it is in Him where we find our full satisfaction and joy. He knows we are weak too. We fall short every day. That is why we need him. That is why we need the body of Christ and each other. We need his grace to change us from the inside out and to give us hope.

Well by the time bedtime came, I didn’t have to do anything except help put my kids to bed. I felt renewed to love them again and give them the attention they deserve. Thankfulness flooded my heart. I laid my head down and slept the best 8 hours I’ve slept in a long time.

From the Archives: A Prayer for Thankfulness in Times of Pain

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Today I wanted to repost a prayer I wrote last year. The original post can be found here.

Father God,

We acknowledge that you are the giver of all good things. We live and breathe because of you. From your hands, You supply all that we need and so much more. But we confess that sometimes we are:

ungrateful…

unthankful…

selfish…

sinful…

hurting people…

I confess that at times I don’t see all the gifts you have given, are giving, and continue to give in my life. I confess that my ungratefulness at times has left me angry, bitter, and wanting. My unthankfulness has made me blind to all that I have. I know my heart needs radical change.

Some of us are unthankful because we’ve experienced a great amount of pain and suffering this year. We’ve lost loved ones and unborn children. Our marriages and relationships are broken. We’re dealing with sickness, injustice, and depression. We’re struggling financially and need a miracle. Circumstances don’t seem to be in our favor. Ever. Some of us wonder why in the world you work the way that you do.

I confess that at times I have caused my own pain and have projected that hurt onto other people.

God, help us to lean into your grace when we’re weak and feel like giving up. Because Lord we are so frail apart from you. Help us to give you thanks because when we choose not to we know that our wounds and pain only grow deeper.

Will you teach us and show us that you are good regardless of the pain and hurt we may feel in this life? You are worthy to be praised in the valley and on the mountaintop. Remind us that you still:

turn ashes into beauty.

instill life into dead bones.

give the oil of joy for mourning.

soften the hardest of hearts.

change sinners into saints.

transform brokenness into wholeness.

wash our sins and make them white as snow.

redeem and restore the years the enemy has stolen.

And let us remember that you have already endured the ultimate shame and suffering on the cross for your glory and our good. Help us to persevere to the end until we see you face to face.

In the meantime, may today, this week and the rest of the year give us a renewed sense of genuine Thanksgiving in each of our hearts regardless of our circumstances. We love you.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

Devotional: Sweet Surrender (Day 7)

crossThis is the final day of seven days of devotions I wrote for Heart Magazine. Thanks so much for journeying with me.

Sweet Surrender

Job 13:13-16

Perhaps one of the most telling verses in all of Scripture regarding one man’s faith in God was that of Job as he says: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him…” Job was intimately acquainted with suffering in the deepest valleys. Even though his faith was shaken, he didn’t fail or fall. He knew God’s greatness and goodness and the power of Jesus Christ to uphold him so he was able to say such words with confidence that God would carry him to the end. It was the Lord’s strength that he leaned on- not his own.

I don’t know about you, but Job’s radical faith challenges me. Even if it costs my own life, God, you want me to trust you that much? And I know this is the very place God wants me to be in my relationship with him. His will is for my faith to be completely abandoned to the person of Christ. A sweet surrender that is not forced, but willingly chosen out of love. A faith that relies on the truth that no matter what happens in this life or what happens to me, God is working for my good and will take all the necessary means to help me trust him more fully.

Hope in Christ. Anchor your faith on his promises.

Devotional: Casting Your Cares (Day 5)

1415692_17326232Day 5 of 7 Devotionals I wrote for the Spring 2013 Issue of Heart Magazine. Scroll down for the previous days.

Day 5

Casting Your Cares

1 Peter 5:6-8

If there is one great lie I believe Satan tempts us with it is this: God doesn’t care for you. Especially when we enter seasons of great struggle and difficulty, it’s far too easy to believe that lie and doubt God’s love and care for us.

There is also a temptation to lay our burdens down elsewhere- on a person, filling that void with a possession or addiction, succumbing to the lusts of our flesh or whatever idols we struggle with. But Truth tells us to throw our heavy loads and struggles onto the Lord for God to take care of. When we cast them upon him, He promises to sustain us.

Our lives are to be marked by being sober and vigilant so we can recognize the Enemy when we see him as he seeks to destroy all oneness with God. All of this requires humility on our part to recognize that God is God. He is good. He cares deeply for us. He’s intimately involved in all that we do. And he can be trusted no matter how great the storms of life beat against us.

Know the Enemy’s schemes. Submit to God. Embrace his love for you.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:6-8

A Letter to My Single Self

Dear Self:

You’re 21. You just graduated from college but, to your dismay, after four years of rigorous studies, you never got your MRS degree. All your roommates had serious boyfriends who became husbands, but you’re still wondering when it’s your turn.

You’ve dated some really good guys but nothing serious ever came about. You’re remembering the advice from your dad who said you didn’t need a serious boyfriend in college. But… college is over. You’re on your way to Nashville for a publishing internship and you’re praying God will bring you someone special.

Well at this season in your life, if I could have a heart-to-heart conversation with you over coffee (or rather tea—your Starbucks addiction won’t come until you have a newborn), there are just a few things I’d say to you while you’re still single…

Continue reading over on StartMarriageRight.com

When the Christian Life is Easier Said Than Done

photo: fancyfleamarket.typepad.com

Yesterday I went over to a friend’s place to visit. What I’ve always appreciated about this friend is her authenticity when it comes to her struggles in raising three children.

Her husband walked in the door as I was attempting to round up my kids. The three of us got into a good, unexpected conversation about hearing vs. actually doing God’s Word.

“We were inspired by our pastor’s sermon on Sunday. We were encouraged to do God’s will. We were convicted in areas that need change…” my friend said.

“Then we got home,” she sighed.

“The kids were horrible. Things felt chaotic. We exploded a lot and were so discouraged because just a few minutes ago we were so on fire to live for the Lord. It’s as if we forgot everything we’d just heard…”

I continued to listen to her story and couldn’t help but think how she was articulating exactly how I’d felt so many times. Especially on Sundays!

Just the other morning I got up early to read my Bible and journal while my husband did his quiet time. It had been well over a week or more since I had been in the Word. The kids weren’t up and I was savoring the alone time. I thought for sure it would be a good day but within the hour it was as if the house erupted. Or shall I say, Momma erupted.

If you took a peep into my window you wouldn’t have found a gentle, godly woman who had just been with Jesus. Anger exploded out of me toward my kids and I felt overwhelmed by all the change that’s happening with our move, graduation, and new baby. Sadly, I’d forgotten all that I had read.

Shortly after, I was reminded of the verses in James:

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it- not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it- they will be blessed in what they do. – James 1:23-25

That evening before bed, I prayed and begged God to help me in the areas of my life where I not only fail but fail big time. In that time of soul searching, He showed me how much I need His grace and that this Christian life is a process- a process of sanctification that doesn’t come over night.

And that “doing” the Christian life is pretty much impossible apart from His truth and guidance. Doing good-outward-acts can’t be mistaken for a heart that’s truly been changed by Christ.

His Word has been given to me as a gift so that I would know how to live, but I can’t be changed if I’m not “looking intently into the perfect law that gives freedom.”

I’m thankful that regardless of my imperfections and weaknesses, God is still at work in me. He’s always pursuing me to come back to Him for the healing I need so badly. He knows I’m a work in progress.

And I think more times than not, I need to celebrate and remember the times where He has allowed me to be victorious in the struggles against sin, rather than focusing so much on failures and falling short.

His divine power has given us all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3)- even in the challenging times of raising little ones. So as for today, it’s time to shake the dust off, confess & repent of sin, accept His forgiveness & love, and continue living by faith in his son.

Article: When Life Has You Waiting

This article was published in Dallas Theological Seminary’s Student Journal- Spring 2012. The main audience is seminary students/future ministry leaders. I hope you’ll be encouraged in whatever you’re “waiting” on in life, too. The PDF can be found here on pg. 5

I’m guessing you’ve been asked what your future plans are after seminary. Some students know they want to press on and get their Ph.D. Some want to be pastors, chaplains, missionaries, or serve in some kind of parachurch ministry.

Or you might be in seminary simply because you know you’re supposed to be, and that’s it. Your ministry has yet to be revealed, and you’re waiting.

Waiting is a Form of Suffering

Waiting on God’s perfect timing is a spiritual discipline that requires a great amount of patience and endurance. You may have God- given dreams that burn wildly in your heart. You cry out, plead, beg, and wrestle with God about those desires.

You might face criticism and misunderstanding from loved ones because nothing “significant” has happened in your ministry or career yet. You’ve waited for years and prayed for answers, but you hear nothing in return.

In her book, Faith that Does Not Falter, Elisabeth Elliot says,

Waiting is a form of suffering— the difficulty of self-restraint, the anguish of unfulfilled longing, the bewilderment of unanswered prayer, flesh and heart failing, soul breaking. These are indeed tribulations, and tribulation is the curriculum if we are to learn patience. We want answers now, right now, but we are required at times to walk in darkness. Nevertheless, God is in the darkness.

There’s no greater way to learn patience and contentment than to go through experiences that require it. Before coming to Dallas Seminary, my husband and I already had seminary degrees from a previous school. We both felt strongly about Jeremiah pursuing more training and education in God’s Word.

After applying to DTS, getting accepted, and moving, we served in an apartment ministry for the first two years of his schooling. In those years, Jeremiah desired to have preaching or church-planting experience but the doors never opened. After we moved onto campus and had our second child is when the tide turned.

An Unexpected Internship

In one of his preaching classes, Jeremiah met Craig Schill, a grad assistant and a local church planter. They developed a friendship, and Jeremiah started interning at his church, Lake Cities Community Church in Rowlett. He was given the opportunity to preach and teach several times and spearhead a community outreach event.

Jeremiah always desired affirmation as to whether preaching was his spiritual gift. In no time he was encouraged above and beyond what he imagined from the church body, through both verbal affirmation and emails. I’ll never forget the evening he told me that the sermon he’d just preached was the closest he’d ever felt to the Lord.

Okay, Lord, we’re getting closer to your plan, I thought.

While his internship ended a few months ago, we decided to continue investing at Lake Cities in our final year at DTS. We have fallen in love with the people, and we’re learning so much about servant leadership.

Lessons from Staying Faithful

Four years seems like a long time of waiting on God’s unique gifting for Jeremiah, but it wasn’t too long for God. God taught him so much through his classes and real-life experiences. If we had rushed or manipulated God’s timing, I think we would have missed out on a huge blessing.

As we approach graduation in May, I continue to remind myself that we are, yet again, waiting on the Lord to provide the next step. While it can be fearful at times, I’m trusting that God will continue to lead us where He desires.

As you continue to wait on God in your time at seminary, be encouraged that you don’t have to have it all figured out. He has a perfect plan for your life and ministry and, He is with you even in the darkness.

The Necessity to Shine {when this world drives you crazy}

I was reading a friend’s status update a few days ago about one of her neighbors. She was in her alley (most Texas homes have back alleys) and out of nowhere she heard a man screaming at the top of his lungs:

“I hate this world!!!”

She couldn’t believe it and asked her friends to pray for this man. Obviously, bitterness and hatred were brewing in his heart toward someone or something.

I’ve had days where I’ve seen a darkness and insensitivity in this world from people who have no regard for one another. Co-workers who slander and devour each other, nasty people in checkout lines, off-the-wall thinking, critical and judgmental people, all around negativity from people across the board, and more.

I’ve had days where people have really gotten to me and the world seems like a depressing place to live. Sometimes random and unexpected situations have happened that have affected my attitude. I think to myself:

The only hope in this mean and crazy world is Jesus. What do people do who don’t have that hope? I would go crazy without it.

And it’s not too long after that I’m reminded of who I am in Christ and what I’ve been sent on this earth to do as his disciple. He reminds me that indeed, this world can be a dark, cold and lonely place but there is a solution to the darkness.

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” – Matt. 5:14-16

My natural inclination is to run and hide from darkness and not confront it, especially if I have been hurt by someone else’s sin. But how will my light shine if I don’t forgive and genuinely love that person who’s so incredibly unlovable? How will they hear about God’s forgiveness and healing if I don’t tell them?

If “hurting people hurt people” as the saying goes, then there’s got to be a reason behind every offense. How will my light shine if I return evil for evil? It won’t. My light will shine when I choose to love and let God help me overcome the darkness.

When God’s light shines through us, people can’t help but notice something different. They can’t help but want to know what makes us love rather than hate. They want to know what gives us hope. Love is how people will come to know and understand that the Lord is real and active in the world today.

The man who screamed out in the alley is a picture of how many people feel. They harbor pain and they feel hopeless. These are the people God wants us to seek out and shine our light to. There is no plan B.

And no matter how dark the world continues to get, we are still the light of the world.

Do you find it difficult to shine and show love among the darkness? 

When Your Ceiling Caves In: Thoughts on Being First Time Homebuyers

My husband Jeremiah and I were super excited, but not naive. Enough trusted people in our lives had told us how much work goes into owning a home. This was going to be our very first home that we would close on in just a few hours.

We did the walk-thru with our realtor, Susan, making sure repairs had been made and that all was well and it was… until… we made our way upstairs and opened the door to the attic.

“Babe, can you walk across there and take down those tacky white curtains hanging in the dormers?”

They had been annoying me for a while now, especially because they were visible from the road. Jeremiah takes his first few steps, slowly. I had this odd feeling something was about to happen.

If you remember Chevy Chase in the classic movie, Christmas Vacation, you probably recall him falling through the ceiling while reminiscing over old home videos. Well, that’s basically what went down yesterday.

Jeremiah took another step and part of the floor caved in. It happened to be the dining room ceiling.

My godly, soon-to-be seminary graduate was in shock. “I’m not sure if I want to cuss or laugh! So I think I’ll laugh,” he said.

My eyebrows were raised the whole time, and then I just started cracking up. We knew we wanted the house. We were just about to close. But, really? The ceiling? Oh dear. Should we still close on this house?

Susan couldn’t believe what she was seeing either. “Well, it looks like this is going to be your first repair,” she said. All of us laughed together.

As we walked out of the door, Jeremiah assured me that regardless of the circumstances, this was what we were supposed to do and better that this happened now than later with kiddos around. On our way to the title company, we were laughing so hard about the whole situation. He was already formulating a plan on how he would fix it and what he would need to get at Home Depot.

“Maybe this will encourage you when it comes to fixing all the other future repairs and updates,” I said trying to look on the bright side.

He smiled and assured me that he was up for the task. I had no doubt he would get it done and do it well.

Well, yesterday was just the beginning of our first home buying experience. We chose a two-story house about 10 minutes away from the city, close to Jeremiah’s work. It was built in 1964 and hasn’t had any major updates, but has a ton of potential- nothing a little paint can’t fix! The house is awesome space-wise as everyone will have their own room. It’s going to take a lot of cleaning practice making sure 5 bedrooms are in order.

We were able to get an incredible deal on the home as well. It’s only a few miles away from one of our favorite lakes for running and biking and it’s near a beautiful botanical garden that everyone in Dallas seems to frequent. Not to mention, a park and playground that the kids love are five houses down.

But like I said, the house is older so with that comes a lot of work. And I can only naturally relate this whole house experience to life because it has taught me so much already. Having the ability to own a home and fill it with good things is a gift, but it will not satisfy the deepest cravings in my heart. Only God will be able to satisfy those needs.

Our new house will also, in one way or another, disappoint us. Stuff will break. Pipes will leak. There will always be work. There will be new challenges that didn’t exist in an apartment and there will be new worries and fears.

But Lord willing, God will use this house as a place to show his love, be hospitable, share the gospel, disciple our children, grow our marriage, nurture authentic relationships, make friends and family feel welcome, and teach us more about Himself. And I am definitely excited about that. Most of all, my prayer is that this home will glorify God and that it will be a place where His purposes are accomplished in our family and among the people we will live near.

Until we move out of seminary housing at the end of April, we will be painting, getting appliances, and doing lots of dirty work. Well that is, mostly my husband, family, and friends since I shouldn’t be around paint being pregnant.

Oh yeah and we’ll also be praying that nobody else falls through the ceiling.

New Article: The First Argument on StartMarriageRight.com

Our honeymoon had been perfect so far. My husband of four days had blown me away with his romantic surprises. We were giddy about being on the breathtaking Hawaiian island, Kauai, and it seemed like every minute we were relishing in our new love together. But suddenly as we walked along the shore near our cabana, the tides in our relationship changed…

Continue reading over on Start Marriage Right & feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

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