Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Where You Are

Sometimes God takes us on a heart journey we never expected. The very things we think have a pretty enough bow on them, carefully covered up to look safe and healthy and secure are anything but that. And He, in a way that only He can, patiently loves us, patiently walks with us, patiently continues to pour Himself into us.

But we miss it.

We miss it because what is always there is often looked over... forgotten. It's taken advantage of. And the very thing we're seeking from someone else, and sometimes from anyone else, is right there beside us.

I think about that with my family. The husband and three boys I am head-over-heels in love with. God, in His great grace, has gifted me with what I feel is the best family there ever could be. As a young and clueless 18-year-old who only had a small idea of what she was looking for in a husband, He led me straight to the man He knew I'd spend my forever with. Because we were 18 and 19 when we met and had no clue what it really meant to be husband and wife, had no idea what the years ahead would hold, and probably had no business getting married at 20 and 21 (young, not quite done with college, no money, etc.)... well, if nothing else it's proof that God's plan is so, so good, and He knew the kind of husband I would need, and the kind of wife Brian would need, even if we weren't those people quite yet. He knew we'd get there.

And our boys? They're incredible... and hilarious and messy and thoughtful and forgetful... and by some miracle the best parts of Brian and me, by God's grace. And together the 5 of us are trying every day to live a life that points others to Jesus. We argue and disagree, we mess up and get plenty of things wrong. We're a passionate bunch, and that comes out in different ways. But.... yes, there's always a but, right? Every day we remember why we're here. And Brian and I take the job of raising these young men into strong men of God very seriously, so we talk about hard things. What used to make them squirm uncomfortably they now take like champs (usually - ha!), because we're slowly learning that there's nothing they can tell us that we can't handle. Nothing that will ever change how we feel about them. Nothing God's grace can't heal and forgive. And nothing that would keep us from fighting to have the best possible relationship with each other that we could ever have. That's what God does for us. That's what He's modeled for us to do here. 

It's also what has caused me to pause these past several months and take a good hard look at my life. On what and who I place my security in. You see, I'm blessed with a pretty awesome family who loves me well. So it's pretty easy to place my security in them. To allow, and unfortunately, expect them to fill my cup. That's not their job, and when I place my security and sense of worth in them, or in friendships, or on how people feel about me at work or at church, then I'm not trusting my heart with the only One who is able to best take care of it, not to mention putting unrealistic pressures on the the ones I love the most.

God is the giver of all good things. He wants to bless us and love us through people and experiences. But when we let those good things take precedence over Him, when we put our stock, our very identity, in those relationships, they become little gods that pull us away from what really matters most. 

In our enjoyment of the good things, we forget the Giver of the good things. We leave Him behind.

The older I get, the more insecure I realize I am. The more I look to everyone else for validation. I check through a mental list of people, wondering if each of them are happy with me. It's exhausting. And not at all what God intended. And it's taken a couple of difficult circumstances to make me realize that the job of being the people pleaser is an impossible one. 

God met me where I was in that place. And slowly, He's leading me out of it. It is taking a lot of encouragement and reminders that I am loved and cherished and valued, no matter what. No matter what. But He's hanging in there with me, because that's what He does.

And you, my friend, are loved and cherished and valued, no matter what.

An identity crisis, when it pulls us away from His plan for us, is a sin. It just is. It puts the focus on ourselves and our needs and our validation and our feelings and the endless pursuit of acceptance and happiness. And I can tell you from experience, we're never going to find it when we look in there. Never.

But when we dig deep into God's Word and read that He loves us with an everlasting love, that He forgives us and has a beautiful plan for our life, that we are never out of His reach, we will begin to trust that His promises really are true. That He is more than enough. And the weight that we didn't even realize we were carrying? It's lifted and gone.

Am I there yet? Nope. Not completely. It takes a long time to break a lifetime of habits like this. But one day at a time, we're getting there, and I am so thankful.

Yes, God lovingly meets us right where we are, but He never intends for us to stay there. And we can trust that He will be right within us, beside us, and before us, leading us out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Safely Sent

We have less than a week before school starts, and like clockwork, that little twinge of sadness/panic settled in last night as I was going to bed. It feels a little ridiculous that I go through this every year because I know better, but every year that twinge is a little bigger. A little harder to ignore. 
We had the most incredible summer. Quite possibly my favorite. We (and by we, that could mean one of us, a few of us, or all 5, so don't overthink that) snorkeled, ziplined, floated down a river, slept in, visited our KC family, watched and played a lot of baseball, fished, and searched for sand dollars. We stood under the arch in St. Louis. 

We experienced crab legs for the first time. We fed seagulls and struck up conversations with complete strangers in hopes of encouraging them. We toured London (that was just Hud with Nana, but we all lived vicariously through their trip;). 

We wasted entire days watching tv and playing video games. We spent time with friends. We chased butterflies and Pokemon. We worked in the yard, took care of chickens (and subsequently, figured out that chicken farming is NOT for us) and threw water balloons at each other. We played a lot of card games and watched a lot of movies.

Thinking back on this summer, I should be exhausted, right? But I'm not. I'm completely energized. These days with being just the 5 of us, they're fleeting. And while I believed the wise women who have gone before me when they said each year goes faster than the one before, I guess I didn't realize just how fast those years would go.

And here we are at the end, and completely okay with doing absolutely nothing until school starts, and I can't shake that nagging feeling that inevitably comes. This morning I figured out what exactly was bothering me. It's mostly the normal realization that the time for schedules and practices and alarms needing to be set and waking up before the sun rises has come. And while I like structure, I think the world would be a happier place if the day didn't start until 9:00. It's not all that different from other years, but this year I've been able to pinpoint something a little deeper. 

Last week we shopped for school supplies and new shoes and first day of school outfits, and it got me thinking about how much we do to get our outsides prepared for the school year...but what about our insides? What are we doing to make sure they are ready to take on a new year from the inside out?

We all deal with mean, unreasonable people. Not everyone is going to like us. We're going to be teased, misunderstood, looked over, and ignored. That is just part of living in the world. And honestly, it's those things that make sending the boys back to school an anxiety-filled event for me (the boys are typically fine-ha!). We live in a sweet community with wonderful schools, and they all have good friends. But I know how hard the world can be, and my desire to shield them from that overrides all logic sometimes. 

Since I can't go with them (I'd be weird and they'd be mortified)... what can I do? What can we do as parents to make sure they are prepared to handle the world out there without us?

1. Make your house a safe home base.

As a kid I loved "clean sheets day" because my mom would sprinkle baby powder on my bed each time she changed my sheets...there was just something magical about it, and I promise my bed was even cozier on those nights. My Momo did it too... I'm not sure if that tradition goes any further back, but I now do the same thing, and we all look forward to "powder bed night" (as the boys call it).  I spend way more time than I'd prefer cleaning, doing laundry, and taking care of our house. With 3 boys and a big hairy dog it all seems futile... it really does. But I can't help but think that all the effort that goes into making our home clean and inviting, that by sprinkling baby powder on our sheets each week when the beds get changed, that baking cookies once in awhile, and making sure the pantry stays well-stocked... my hope is that it provides a sense of balance and calm when the outside world is busy and chaotic. I can assure you that our house is never totally clean, and the ironing basket stays full, snack bowls get left everywhere, and there's always something that needs to be picked up, (so please don't read this as "I need to keep my house spotless!") but you get the idea.

2. Encourage them to be themselves. 

Along with your home being a safe place physically, we need to make sure to create an environment where they feel safe mentally and spiritually. 

There are things we have gotten wrong when it comes to raising our boys, but one thing Brian and I set out to do from the start was to make sure the boys knew they could tell us anything. Anything. Some days those conversations have come easily, and others it's been like pulling teeth, but the boys have learned over time that when they tell us what's really going on with them, it helps. And when they've had to tell us something hard, when they've messed up big, they've learned that we're not going freak out and scream, and they trust us. There are consequences, yes, but they know we're going to help get them through it, and it's going to be okay.  Those conversations, though really hard sometimes, have made us closer. 

All 3 of them have very different personalities. They have different interests. They're all social, but are homebodies too. As parents, we want our kids to fit in, right? We want to know that when they're at school they have friends excited to see them, someone to sit with at lunch, that they're not getting picked last in P.E. But we also know that there are going to be times when they feel they don't fit in, when someone might make fun of them, when they don't get picked for a team or a play. It stinks. So what do we do? 

We remind them that they are exactly who God created them to be, that the treasure that lies within them might sometimes be overlooked by people, but never is by the Lord. Or by us. We make them laugh, we hug them, we tell them that being a kid (or teenager) is hard, but it doesn't last forever. We listen to their hurts, and take them out for ice cream. We talk about past times when something similar happened, and remind them that this too shall pass. We tell them stories from our childhood, so they know it's normal... or at the very least, hereditary. ;) And then we trust that the safe place we've created for them at home will be a comfort for them, giving the security they need to get up and face the next day with a different perspective.

3. Pray with and for them. 

This seems obvious, maybe. Maybe not. But there is nothing sweeter than praying with your kids. Seeing the weight of the world literally lift off their shoulders is incredible. Watching them learn to trust God with the big things and the little things is beautiful. It builds their confidence as they learn that because Jesus goes before them and is with them wherever they go, they really have nothing to worry about. And if someone doesn't like what they say or do, they can smile and walk away, realizing that it really doesn't matter that much anyway.

Be the safe place for your kids. Point them to the One who will fill them up with more love and faith and wisdom than they'll know what to do with. And then send them off into the world with a smile, knowing He's got them. He's got you. It's going to be a great year.