A letter to my littlest

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I can hardly believe it’s been an entire year since you entered the world and we were transformed into a family of four. A whole year of transitions and changes. New routines, new challenges. A new family dynamic. A whole new little person to love. We watched from our sleep deprived haze as your personality emerged and flourished. Our sweet, playful, bold, adventurer, disarming us with smiles, all the while pushing the boundaries as far as they will possibly go. Joy by name, joyful by nature. What a blessing you are.

Yet from time to time, there looms a beast that threatens to strangle the joy of the last year. Mom guilt. Maybe it has visited you too, suffocating you with its presence. Casting its shadow over your thoughts and actions, causing you to question your decision making and capabilities. Things I could have done better, ways I could have given you more, maybe even loved you more.  So today, on your first birthday, I want to take a minute to clear the air, to vanquish the monster of guilt once and for all and start this new year fresh and new.

I’m sorry little one for all the times you were placed haphazardly on the floor or returned to your bouncer when I knew in my heart you would really much rather be in my arms. For the feeds that were rushed or done on-the-go or even abandoned midway. Your sister needed me and her needs were usually more pressing, more desperate. You had to wait.

I’m sorry that your schedule always seemed to take second place, for the naps that were cut short or missed altogether. For spending too long in the car while we did errands and school drop off. You never complained but the stab of guilt was always there when I buckled you in yet another time. When I knew you needed to sleep or wanted to play. You had to be flexible, to fit in with an established routine instead of having your own.

I’m sorry that you sometimes had to cry a bit louder to be heard above the commotion. That I couldn’t always get to you right away as soon as you wanted me. That you often got poked and prodded and bounced just a little too enthusiastically. That your toys were snatched from you, or weren’t offered at all. You grew up learning how to share everything. Time, attention, toys, even personal space. Nothing was your own.

I’m sorry that mama was tired. Frustrated. Overwhelmed . That she was sometimes too quick to lose her temper. I’m sorry that we read to you less, played with you less. Left you to your own devices a lot more.

I’m sorry that your baby books are still in their wrappers, your milestone photos always late. Your photos are in the cloud instead of frames. Memories in my head instead of boxes.

Reading it back, I wonder if you feel hard done to. Neglected even. That if maybe you were the oldest one, life would have been fairer. Better. Yet sweet one, I promise you, your birth order does not dictate or alter how much you are loved. And being the littlest one has its fair share of blessings too…

I’m thankful you have a big sister. Someone who will love you and defend you fiercely. Who will become your teacher, your playmate, your confidante and closest friend. It may feel like she is always taking  something from you in this chaotic season. Time, and attention, always shared. Yet I hope one day you will see her for the blessing that she is. One of the greatest gifts I could have given you.

I’m thankful that by the time you came along, your mama was already a mama. A little more seasoned, a little more sure. No longer as terrified or self doubting as she was before. With you she relied less on the ‘experts’ and more on her instincts. She worried less about milestones and how ‘things should be done’, and followed your lead a little more. Aware of how short and fleeting this season is, she treasured and appreciated the little moments as much as she could, snuggled you and nursed you to sleep for longer than your sister. She simply enjoyed you more. I want you to know that.

I’m thankful that without a nervous new mom hovering around your every move, you had the opportunity to be you a little more freely. To explore and test your limits. To jump on a trampoline that’s too big for you, climb a step that’s too high. To be swung slightly too fast or bounced roughly down a slide. To be constantly surrounded by language and learning. Stories and songs. Laughter and love.  

I’m sure looking back over this year, there are things I could have done differently. There’s always room for improvement. Yet I hope in spite of it all, you know this mama is doing her very best for you. That you are loved beyond measure. That you  bring joy you bring to us each and every day.

Happy birthday sweet girl. For you, I will never ever apologize. For you, I will only ever be thankful.

Love mummy x

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When you feel unseen…

My daughter loves to play hide and seek. The only problem is, she hasn’t quite grasped the concept of hiding yet. If she can’t see you, she pretty much assumes that you can’t see her either. So after lots of anticipation while she goes and finds the perfect hiding spot, there she is in front of you, hiding in plain sight, face buried in a cushion.  She never can understand how I can find her so quickly…

Ever felt invisible even though there you are in plain sight? I can think of times serving in ministry where this has been the case. Maybe you had dreams of being a headline act. A Billy Graham, a Chris Tomlin, a Lysa Terkeurst. A big name making big waves for the kingdom of God. Yet instead, you feel like you’ve been cast as the support act. Doing tasks that seem thankless, that go unacknowledged. Using your God-given gifts to the best of your ability yet still barely making ripples, never mind waves. ‘Is anyone noticing what I’m trying to do here?’, you wonder, ‘am I making a difference?’

If this is you, then take comfort from what Paul writes at the end of the book of Romans, or rather who he recognizes as he thanks various people who have helped him on his missionary journey:

“Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, these women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord

Greet Rufus…and his mother, who has been a mother to me too.”

We don’t find out any more about these women, the specifics of what they did for Paul, how they supported him, or why they deserved special recognition. They were likely ordinary women, humble support acts to Paul the headliner, who probably didn’t feel like what they were doing was all that extraordinary. They ‘loved, ‘worked hard in the Lord’ – and God used their willing hearts to make an impact in Paul’s ministry and subsequently the life of the early church. Such an impact in fact, that they earned permanent recognition in God’s written Word.

1 Corinthians 12 reminds us that, like a well functioning body with many parts, we have all been assigned different but no less important roles to play in the kingdom of God. The body, however will only work well if all its parts work together for a common purpose.

“For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of… no part is important on its own.” (MSG)

Every role has its place in God’s kingdom, from the headline acts, through the supporting acts right down to the jobs that are downright thankless and invisible. They are all necessary for God’s church to function and flourish in our broken world. If we start playing the comparison game, we risk the whole system collapsing in a sea of envy, dissatisfaction, and discord and what use is that to the kingdom of God? We are called instead to do whatever job we have been assigned to do with honor, working at it,

“with all of our heart, as though working for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)

I wonder how the women mentioned in Paul’s letter would react if they knew what their legacy would be many thousands of years later. I wonder if they ever felt they were making a difference, making waves. Yet they ended up playing a supporting role in one of the greatest missionary journeys undertaken in the early church. What an opportunity they may have missed if they chose not to obey God’s call on their life, no matter how small or insignificant it seemed at the time.

In the same way I see my toddler ‘hiding’ in front of my eyes, God always sees us when we feel unseen. When we feel unimportant or ineffective or invisible. When our work seems fruitless, when we feel like we are not performing at the level we should be, when we feel like a support art instead of the headliner. He sees us and He promises us our work for Him is not in vain. So whether you’re a Paul, or a Tryphena today, take heart. Every wave starts with a ripple, and your legacy might reach far beyond your wildest dreams. If only you stay the course.

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Discouragement: Keeping your boat afloat

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My daughter was having a hard time trying to build up a tower of blocks with her baby sister. Babies, she’s learning, don’t follow the rules. Just as she was starting to build up some momentum stacking up those blocks nice and tall, the baby would gleefully knock everything down. Prematurely. No matter how hard she tried, it was never fast enough and the end result was always the same. A pile of bricks on the floor and cries of  ‘…but I didn’t get to finish!’ ringing in my ears. We put that game away for another day!

Life in this season can be a lot like that, I’m finding. You keep plowing on, but no matter how much effort you’re putting in, it never seems like you’re getting anywhere. The house is always in an apparent state of neglect. The laundry: don’t even talk to me about the laundry. Maybe it’s potty training, sleep training, trying to get your child to eat something other than grilled cheese for dinner. No matter how many hours you put in, or books you read or strategies you try, you’re just not seeing any results. A relationship that just doesn’t seem to be healing despite your best efforts or intentions, or a career goal you’re striving for that just never seems to be coming to fruition. You keep building up that tower and time and time again the bricks end up in a pile at your feet. Discouragement sets in and soon you’re wondering if you should even try to build the tower again. Why try so hard if the result will be the same? Why not just give up?

I love the analogy of the little boat sailing through stormy seas. Wave over wave crashes over it yet it keeps sailing on, bruised, dented, but undeterred. However once that hull is breached and water starts to seep inside, it’s game over. The weight of the water overwhelms it until it finally can’t take it any more and succumbs completely, dragged down beneath the waves. Discouragement can be like that. If you let it, it can seep into your soul and threaten the very foundation of who you are. Before you know it discouragement turns to doubt. ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not trying hard enough, you’re not equipped enough, surely someone else could do a better job.’ It doesn’t matter what it is your facing, a major storm or a freak wave, once you give doubt and discouragement a foothold, let them take root in your soul, it’s like letting water rush in to your boat. Before you know it you’re sinking. Overwhelmed, disheartened, giving up.

So what is the antidote? We are told in Hebrews 12 to:

“ run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Remember Peter? He was doing just fine walking on those choppy waves…until he took his eyes off Jesus. That’s no coincidence. As soon as he looked down he lost his confidence. He lost his assurance. He looked at the water all around him, and he started to sink. Once we let the water in, it can easily start to take over until we’re feeling like we’re in danger of drowning. So, when water is threatening our boat, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and replace the lies with truth. Truth that will keep us afloat.

Look at what Paul says in Galatians 6:9

“Do not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest – if we do not give up.”

He sees that we’re tired. We’re weary. We’re discouraged. Yet He asks us to just trust Him and keep going, keep persevering, keep pressing on. That even if we don’t see the fruits of our labor immediately or ever this side of heaven, we need to remember that ultimately nothing we do for God is ever wasted. At the proper time, In God’s time, there will be a harvest. There is always hope on the horizon – if we do not give up.

It’s all about what we choose to focus on. Focus on the water and we drown. Fix our eyes on Jesus and we stay afloat, on even the roughest of seas. He is our role model, our inspiration, our biggest supporter, our source of strength and hope. Our lifeline.

So when a season of discouragement threatens your stability, friends, keep sailing on. God only knows where your journey will end– if you do not give up.

When we can’t see what’s next…

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“Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4 is one of those verses that is supposed to give you comfort. It’s a verse that I’ve bookmarked, memorized, and passed onto others as an encouragement time and time again. Yet for some reason when it appeared in my inbox as the ‘verse of the day’ recently, I did not feel encouraged, or supported, or any the feelings I would normally associate it with. I felt panic.

It was the last phrase that did it, “the desires of your heart.” That’s all well and good if you know what those desires are. What if you don’t? What then?

To explain, currently I feel like I am on a precipice. Where I’m standing, my footing is secure, my purpose and role is clear. Yet just beyond where I’m standing, is a vast, open space, full of possibilities and opportunities and question marks. The ‘what’s next.’ It spells a new chapter of life where I am no longer my children’s caretaker 24 hours of the day and can rejoin the workforce, volunteer or serve in some other capacity. It’s exciting and exhilarating and it also makes me deathly afraid.

Why am I so afraid? Partly it’s because when I look into the void, I see only blankness. I don’t have a predetermined plan, a goal I am working towards, or a specific role I can visualise myself doing. I see only blankness. If I can’t see ahead, if I don’t know what my desires are for the next stage of my life, I’m worried that I’ll miss it: this Thing that I’m supposed to do next. How can you get from A to B if you don’t know where B is or what it even looks like? How do I get to where I’m going without any signposts?

As humans we all tend to want to know what’s coming next. Spoilers if you will. My little 3 year old loves to go through the list of what we’re doing for the day and after every single item will add, “and then?” From sun up to sun down she likes to know what we’re doing next. The order of things. There’s logic to that. Knowledge gives us security. When we can’t see what’s ahead we can feel restless, like an anchorless boat bobbing out on the waves. For me, not knowing what was next or even what I wanted to do next was terrifying.

Then I came across this passage in Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Uninvited, which talks about Psalm 37:4 specifically and states that when we,

abide and delight and dwell in Him, He places within us desires that line up with His best desire for us.” That… ‘He wants our hearts to be in alignment with Him before our hearts set about doing today’s assignment for Him”

Well. This hit me like a ton of bricks. Straight away the emphasis comes off ourselves and onto God. Deciding what’s next is not a task that we have to undertake alone. In fact, we can take the heat off ourselves even further and say that our most pressing job is to rest in the Father. By spending time with Him, He will mould us and shape us and grant us desires that will align with His plans for us – plans that will be infinitely greater than anything we could come up with on our own.

God has not made us to be purposeless, or useless, or lost. Even if we can’t see what’s ahead, He can. He is our anchor when we’re bobbing around in turbulent seas. In the midst of the unknowable, He is all-knowing. All we can do is trust Him with what we can see, like a car whose headlights only uncover one section of the road at a time. Even though we can only see a little bit of the road ahead, we have to keep driving in order to get home. All we can do is trust God with what we can see and keep moving forward, trusting that he will continue to light the way ahead.

Yes it’s scary not to know what’s next. But I feel that God is saying “trust me. I have a plan for you, even if you can’t see all it yet. In the meantime, when you’re doubting your worth or your usefulness or your ‘what’s next,’ come to me. Then I can start to change your heart and create desires in you that reflect me and everything I created you to be.”

Suddenly Psalm 37:4 is no longer scary, but full of hope. The potter knows his clay. The father knows His children, and His plans for us are far far more exciting than anything we can imagine for ourselves.

Resting in the Now

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but making New Year’s resolutions seems to be rather passé these days. I don’t know if it’s the time it takes to compile them, or just the crushing disillusionment they can provoke when December rolls around again… or is that just me?

Anyway for those of you who still love a healthy dose of January goal setting, panic not! A new trend is sweeping the boards and I for one am jumping on the bandwagon. Instead of making resolutions, we are choosing one word, a “word of the year.” Not a long drawn out list of resolutions, but a simple word, representing some kind of personal change you want to see in the coming year.

I know, I’m a bit late to the party since it’s now already almost February – you can thank jetlag, ear infections, stomach flu and pink eye for that! However I am now armed with a word that I feel captures something of my heart for the coming year. A word that I feel God has signposted for me over and over again in conversations, sermons, reading material… you name it. A small, unassuming word but with so very much impact.

R E S T

Yep that’s it – and no, not the kind of rest that you get from a long hot shower, or a nap or an hour away from the kids. Although believe me, they each have their place! This kind of rest is the rest you feel deep within your soul. A rest that brings peace, fulfilment and of course, joy.

Our pastor was just talking recently about how incredibly busy we all are. We hurry and rush and jam our schedules full of appointments, activities and ‘things!’ Not only that but we seem to relish the hectic nature of our lives. If we are busy, we are successful. We are valuable. We are making a difference. Is this you? I cannot deny that I too am overbooked, over loaded, always rushing. Having small children means that you have the joy of seeing yourself starkly, as they see you – reflected in their mannerisms and their play. So when your daughter starts telling her toys to “hurry uuuup” and “come on!”, I know that I have a problem! Guilty as charged. I am definitely being called to focus less on the schedule and more on the solitude.

However at a deeper level, rest to me also means I need to stop striving. To stop trying to move onto the next chapter of my story before the ink has dried on this one. I’m a planner; I like (need!) to look ahead. However, the danger is that I spend so much time trying to figure out the next stage that I miss the beautiful, glorious, adventure that I’m in right now. In this moment.

There are things about this season of life that frustrate me. It can be easy to fall into the trap of doubting your calling, your value, feeling ineffectual, desiring more. But I’m hearing God say over and over again that I need to rest in it. To trust Him and where he has me right now. The Bible tells us that “there’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on this earth” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There’s comfort in that verse. To embrace this season and all it brings. Whether our focus is on sowing, cultivating or reaping the harvest, our role is no less important, no less valuable to the Kingdom. Each season has its own purpose and focus and has earned its rightful place in the story being written by our Creator. Our striving, our tendency to try and jump ahead to write it ourselves will only bring us discontentment, anxiety and the very opposite of rest within our souls.

In her book, ‘Nothing to Prove,’ Jennie Allen writes, ‘We won’t ever stop searching for purpose until God’s will becomes our passion.”

So this year I’m trying to rest in God’s will. To stop striving and worrying about what is next, or what He may or may not be working out for me behind the scenes. To rest and breathe and know that He has got this and will show me what’s next – but only when the timing is perfect. He knows my struggles, my disappointments, my unmet desires. He knows my goals and dreams and potential. But He has made everything beautiful in His time. So I need to stop fighting so hard, stop trying to get ahead of Him and instead focus on serving and glorifying Him right where I am. There’s beauty, so much beauty, to be found there: in the stillness.

“The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

2018 is going to be my year of rest. Let’s see what it brings…

 

 

Resting in the now – our journey with fussy eating

A 2 year old girl picks up a cider donut and takes a few bites. To anyone looking on, the scene is unremarkable, run of the mill even. The same scene, in fact, is probably being played out in farms and orchards all over New York State in the Fall, so what is so noteworthy about this one? It’s hardly a ‘stop what you’re doing’ moment. Yet in our world, it was a breakthrough. A moment to be cherished and celebrated.

For my daughter, trying a cider donut for the very first time was a huge step, a massive leap outside her comfort zone. She is a child who clings to the familiar. New textures, tastes, even new utensils are met with loud resistance. She is the child who will cry when presented with cupcakes at a birthday party, who will shudder when offered a carton of juice and reach for the safety of her water bottle. Even her ‘safe’ food will be rejected on sight if it looks even remotely different from what she is used to. A square cracker instead of a rectangle one? Forget it. She is the child who has always choked and gulped and gagged and cried when we gently encouraged her again and again to try something new.

It is an understatement to say that since this issue reared its head in the early days of weaning, it has weighed on us heavily. I stressed and I worried. Worried that her eating ‘issues’ were a big deal, that we weren’t handling it correctly, that it would somehow follow her into later childhood. “Would she be the only child in elementary school still using a sippy cup!?,” I only half joked. I steeled myself every time we went out to birthday party, or somewhere new to eat. Would there be something she could eat? How much resistance will she put up? What will people think?

It’s not that we didn’t try. I read articles, consulted the one and only Dr. Google. I battled her, willed her, gave in to her, and lost my cool with her. Ever cut ONE blueberry into 6(!) pieces only to still have it rejected? It gets pretty wearing.

 I wish it hadn’t been such a source of anxiety. I wish I could be the kind of parent who shrugs and says ‘don’t worry, she’ll get there. In her own good time.’

But I’m not and I wasn’t. I just needed to figure out somehow how to fix it. To fix her.

And yet her we are. At the ripe old age of 2 years and almost 9 months, there are signs of change. She’s a big girl now who sleeps in a big girl bed. The high chair is long gone and she sits at the table with the grown ups. She’s a big sister now. Her pride is unmistakable and her quest for independence and praise spills over into everything she does. She’s ready. In the last few weeks she’s picked up and tasted more new things than she’s tried in the last year. Every day we add a small item to the tasting menu. A pretzel, a raspberry, a mini muffin. We have a mantra too now. “We always need to try mummy” she says and leaps into the unknown, with me as her cheerleader. Most of the food admittedly is then handed back to me half chewed. But we take that as a win nonetheless. Baby steps.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. How I wish I could go back to that mom from a year ago, from six months ago even, that worried and fretted, and tell her to take a breath. Tell her that whether she believes it or not, she IS going to get there in her own good time and she’s going to be okay. Tell her to stop focusing on the negatives, to stop comparing and stop striving for perfection. To simply rest in this crazy, magical stage of her childhood, in who she is right now, and all the wonderful, amazing things she CAN do. Tell her that one day, that little girl staring at her defiantly over her dinner plate is going to be on her first school field trip eating a cider donut for the very first time with all her classmates and her heart is going to burst with pride.

Our food journey is far from over, there’s plenty more progress to be made, more obstacles to overcome. But that warm fall afternoon at the orchard taught me that I need to stop stressing so much and rest in the now. My toddler is fearfully and wonderfully made. She doesn’t need me to fix her, she needs me to love her right where she is, whatever that entails. She is who she was created to be and she’s going to be okay.

It’s amazing what you can learn from a cider donut.

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Relentless

Today a friend called me and asked how I was ‘managing’ as a mom of two now. I laughed. If you replace ‘managing’ with ‘surviving’, you might get a more accurate picture of where we are three months into life with a toddler and a baby. It’s hard to describe what a day in the life is like unless you’re living it. Today, for example, there was a fleeting window when both children were napping at the same time and I thought for the briefest of moments ‘I’ve got this.’ Then everyone woke up and it was back to being like feeding time at the zoo. I had to acknowledge that I in no way, ‘had this’. Whatever ‘this’ is.

One word that probably sums up this phase of life the best just now is this: Relentless. From dawn to dusk, life moves at a whirlwind pace. Trying to get a toddler to eat something more than endless snacks, attempting something vaguely resembling a nap schedule, potty training, entertaining, tear-wiping, disciplining, teaching them how to grasp confusing concepts such as sharing and the fact that you have to wear clothes. And don’t even get me started on trying to actually leave the house to go anywhere. Walking to the mailbox can seem like an expedition of epic proportions. Then there are the non-child-care related tasks like making sure everyone has clean(ish) clothes and there’s food in the fridge. Oh, and that the house isn’t a disaster zone.

Relentless.

You find yourselves going nonstop from the moment you hear that first wail until the moment your head hits the pillow. You realize hours have passed since you ate or drank something yourself or went to the bathroom. Your needs are on pause. No downtime. No ‘me’ time.

Yes, it’s a phase. Yes, I know these are the days that I will probably look back on longingly with an ache in my heart – so I’m told… The cuteness, the cuddles, the smiles. Their helplessness and dependence on you for every little thing. The fierce, unflinching love they have for you and their delight to be with us. ALL the time! These are truly days of wonder and love and so much learning. But oh it can be hard. The weight of it all can seem almost crushing, the monotony of certain tasks almost too much to bear. The thought of doing it all again in the morning can sometimes seem too much. Beyond what I can handle.

But as moms (and dads) we have to handle it. We get up each and every day and do it all over again. So how can we combat the relentlessness? How can we ease the burden when we’re feeling physically and emotionally spent? Here are some things I’m learning…

I need to give myself grace.

It’s so easy to say but oh so hard to do. If you’re like me, you’re still trying to do it all. When two little beings need you all the time and often urgently at the exact same moment, we can’t split ourselves in two. Multitasking has its limits. Someone has to wait a bit longer to get what they need and that irrational guilt you feel in that moment, when you know you can’t be everything they both need at the exact same time, you need to let it go. The standards that you’re trying to live up to when it comes to keeping a home worthy of Joanna Gaines, or making organic Pinterest-worthy meals every night, are based on nothing but our own unrealistic expectations. Yet so often we feel crushed by the weight of them, that somehow we’re failing if we’re not ticking all the boxes that we’ve set for ourselves.

I’m learning that eventually the laundry will get done (the laundry fairy has to get to me eventually right!?) , the dishes will be washed. If we don’t have a home-cooked meal every night, my children will survive. If one of my children has to wait a little bit longer to get what they need because I’m dealing with the other one, they won’t hold it against me in the long term. Sometimes giving ourselves grace means embracing the chaos a little more and focusing on the stuff that actually matters. With the jump from one child to two, I simply cannot do it all and that is okay. Give yourself grace.

I can’t do it alone.

The irony of being a stay at home mom when you are surrounded by little people every second of the day is that it can be a lonely experience. Yet we often forget that we’re not actually on this journey of motherhood alone. As moms, how often do we feel like we always have to be strong, the one holding everyone else up? We wake up every day and try to carry the load singlehandedly, even when our back is breaking with the weight of it. We pretend we’re on top of everything, that we’ve ‘got this.’ Even when our strength is depleted and our resolve is gone.

I have found tremendous support through my mom tribe, both online and in person. Women who have listened, without judgement and supported me through the day or whatever crisis was unfolding at the time. Women with whom I have laughed and cried, who have brought over coffee, or taken the baby without a second thought to give me a few minutes to breathe. Friends you can be real with, who allow us to lower the masks and glimpse our true selves, messy and vulnerable as they are! These relationships are vital. They will be your lifeline.

I hope you have people like that in your life. But as a Christian there is another relationship that is quite literally a lifeline. Over and over again, the bible tells us we simply do not need to do life alone or rely on our own strength. That when we are at our weakest, God is our strength. When we feel we don’t have the strength to persevere, His strength sustains us. He is the answer to our weariness.

“My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord says, “my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

“Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength,” He says in Isaiah 40:31. “They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Several years ago, my husband and I were part of a group trip hiking the trail to Machu Picchu. The high altitudes increased the physical demands of the trail and despite only carrying small day packs containing our necessities, we would arrive at camp every evening utterly exhausted. While we were struggling with the weight of our little packs, our group also consisted of porters, native to the region, who would run ahead of us, carrying enormous packs with everything we needed to set up camp. Tents, sleeping bags, food, even cooking equipment. Literally everything. Laden down with these enormous packs, they would sprint ahead of us to ensure everything was set up for our arrival. They didn’t seem to be struggling with the weight at all. In fact they made it look easy. There’s no way we could have made any progress on the trail if we had to carry everything we needed for the journey. We needed their help to carry the load.

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

What a blessing to have a God who is not content to observe us struggling with our heavy load. All we have to do is carry our small packs, with everything we need for the day to day. The rest of it, the stuff that’s simply too much for us to carry on our own, God is offering to carry that for us. What’s more, He goes before us on the road ahead. He prepares the way for us. All we have to do is carry what we can and trust Him for the rest.

We can do ALL things through His strength. Whether it’s the demands of motherhood, marriage, major health issues or life decisions, nothing is too big for the Lord to handle, or carry on our behalf. So the next time I face a relentless day; when the demands of the day seem overwhelming, I’m going to try to give it all to God whose love for me is beyond measure and whose strength far surpasses my own. There in his strength, I will find my joy.

 

 

 

 

Diary of a potty training mom…

I had to laugh when 1 Thessalonians 5:16 popped up in my daily devotional this morning. Clearly when Paul writes  ‘Rejoice always’, he was not in the middle of trying to potty train a 2 year old! 😉  I thought I was ready, in fact I was even in a strange way looking forward to it. I found a great resource in the Oh Crap! Potty Training Method, cleared our calendar for a week and went for it. Boy was I in for a treat.

Now I do not want to come across as a pessimist in any way but potty training is no walk in the park. Suffice to say if my husband hadn’t been home on the first day I think my daughter would’ve been back in diapers by lunchtime. Although if you’d asked him how he felt about the process when he was cleaning poop out of our brand new bath tub… 😉

I’m going to spare you the details of our journey so far. It’s still early days, I’m honestly still not sure if we can sustain the pace at this stage in my daughter’s development in my pregnant and highly hormonal state unless we hit a breakthrough. However if anyone is actively looking for a blow by blow account, then just feel free to ask. I could write a book about our 5 day experience so far. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you first…

So now that I’m far removed from the situation, enjoying a coffee and some alone time in Starbucks, I can breathe and reflect a little on some thoughts that have been whirring through my mind throughout this crazy,  overwhelming process.

Embrace the child you have – quirks and all

This seems obvious but to be honest this is a huge one for me. Oh how I wanted my child to be one of these ‘textbook’ case studies in the book who potty train in 3 days. Although I didn’t necessarily verbalize it, my expectations were sky high. Yet in my quest for success, I forgot about the most important part of the process. My daughter. Her nature, her personality, her unique learning needs, her challenges, her strengths. With so many other milestones, my daughter has learned her own way, at her own pace. She has quirks with eating, she never followed the ‘rules’ with napping. She has a strong will and digs in when faced with change of any kind. Yet I don’t know why this time I expected her to act any differently when faced with a major life challenge or transition. Why was I expecting her to be any different than who she was created uniquely to be? I think sometimes we forget that our kids are really trying so hard at everything. They are doing their very very best. When their best doesn’t match up with what we’re reading in the latest parenting book or age checklist, it can be hard not to get discouraged. We think we’re doing something wrong, Or worse, that there’s something wrong with them.

I’m learning that as soon as we take our focus off them and start comparing them to their peers, we forget what’s important. We stop seeing them as little miracles of creation, gifted to us to love and raise, and instead see them as a list of tick boxes. A friend shared this amazing quote recently: ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ How true that is. We envy and find ways to fault parents whose children are doing things our children aren’t managing yet and we put others down to make ourselves feel better. Ever said or thought. “Oh well at least my child isn’t like X,?” We also forget about all the amazing, wonderful things our children can do. Their loving spirit, their kindness, their humor, their sense of adventure. They are not defined by the one thing (or several) that they are struggling with at this moment in time. They are defined by their identity as a child of God. Let’s collectively take a breath, embrace the child we have, quirks and all and find a way to make things work for them.

Find your tribe

Okay second of all, this experience reminded me how much I need my tribe. Tribe = any kind of support network, physical, virtual or otherwise, of moms, family members, friends etc who have your back when the going gets tough. I don’t know how many times I have relied on my tribe to ask questions, get encouragement or just generally have a rant. People prayed for me this week, they checked in, they offered encouragement and shared with me in my (limited!) successes and failures. Kudos to my husband too who brought home chocolate cake after a very long day since wine wasn’t an option at 33 weeks pregnant. No cake has ever been met with such joy! At the end of the day, even though I was at home alone with a toddler cleaning up puddle after puddle and inching closer and closer to the edge, I did not feel alone. We are simply not created to do life alone. In her book Fight Back With Joy, Margaret Feinberg devotes a whole chapter to how friends can be bringers of joy. I love her quote:

“In the fight of life, people can be conduits of great joy and deep refreshment.”

Find your tribe. It may not make the situation any less difficult, but it may make it easier to bear.

Rely on God 

At the end of the day, parenting is hard. Oh so hard. I know I am not equipped to deal with the responsibility of raising this little person in my own power or in my own strength. It is a superhuman job and requires a superhuman portion of strength, patience, wisdom and grace. Funnily enough, God has those qualities in spades and He doesn’t want to keep it to himself. He alone can equip us to follow this calling, that at the same time can bring us to places of deep love and contentment as well as to our knees. He can strengthen us when we have nothing left to give, provide us with divine wisdom to guide our children in the ways of the world, and pour out His grace on us and enable us to share that with our children, even when we are at the end of our rope. There is an amazing prayer in the book The Power of a Praying® Parent that I have taped to my fridge:

“Lord I submit myself to you. I realize that parenting a child in the way you would have me is beyond my human capabilities. I know I need you to help me. I want to partner with you and partake in your gifts of wisdom, discernment, revelation and guidance.  I also need your strength and patience along with a generous portion of your love flowing through me.”

What a prayer. It reminds us of our own limitations and weaknesses yet at the same time that we have a God who is willing to offer us everything we need. God doesn’t expect you to do this journey alone. He stands beside you and goes before you. He alone is enough and through him we can be the parents we were created to be, for the children we were gifted with. Even in the midst of potty training…

Light in the Darkness

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Like most of the world, I watched in horror this week as another city was targeted by terrorism. It’s becoming sickeningly familiar to watch these events unfold but this one, based in my home country, seemed far more personal. I felt burdened for the people of London and the U.K as a whole and it was hard to pull myself out of that hole.

Events like this can really shake us, which I suppose is the whole point of the act in the first place. It causes us to question our safety and that of our children, our family, and friends. It makes us feel afraid, vulnerable, helpless. The once confident sentiment, ‘surely that wouldn’t happen here?’ is becomingly increasingly more doubtful as attacks spread throughout Europe and the world.

We look at the evil in the world and wonder how things could get to this point where human beings demonstrate such hatred towards one another? We ask ourselves why our children have to grow up in a world such as this? Divided. Hurting. Lost. The question I’ve been asking myself in the days since the attack is this: When the world around us seems so broken and full of darkness, how do we reclaim joy?

There’s no easy answer but I think there’s a few things we have to keep in mind. First and foremost, I think it is okay to take time to mourn. We can’t simply put aside our feelings and our emotions and feign joy. The bible again and again permits a time of mourning. To acknowledge and validate the sadness we are feeling. For example, we are told there “is a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4),  and to “rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Jesus himself wept when he went to visit one of his close friends who had passed away. It is okay to allow ourselves to feel; we were given emotions for a reason. However we have to make sure that these feelings of grief and pain don’t overwhelm us, drag us under, and cause us to doubt God and His goodness to us. In her awesome book  ‘Fight Back with Joy’ (see link below), Margaret Feinberg reminds us of a verse from Psalm 30 that ‘weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes with the morning’.

What joy then can we find in the midst of such terrible events? It may seem like a cliched response but as Christian believers we can find comfort and joy in the fact that God is still on the throne. Even when the world doesn’t seem to make sense any more, when the evil in the our midst seems too much to fight against, when everything that once was perfect is now chaotic and broken, we are reminded that God is still sovereign. Nothing that happens here on earth is too big for God to handle. In John 16:33, he reminds us that though this world will bring us many troubles, He has not just overcome the troubles, He has overcome the world. He is not surprised by the depth of the human condition. He is never caught off guard or taken aback by what we are capable of. He sees it all and still He reigns. Constant. Unchanging. Unshakeable. A solid rock onto which we can cling. Our shelter from the storm.

It’s normal to want to rail against Him, to get mad and ask why He doesn’t step in and put a stop to it all. To remove the pain, the tragedy, the suffering. These are things our human minds cannot comprehend. However we are human beings, not robots, and we must therefore suffer the negative (as well as the positive) consequences of the free will He has bestowed upon us.  It may not seem fair, it may not seem just, but God is just and His way is perfect. Judgement will come in the end, the the world will be made right and there will be no more pain or sorrow or tears. Our experience in this life will seem like a wisp of smoke compared to the great expanse of eternity. It seems difficult to comprehend when there is so much evil and hurt happening in front of our eyes, yet we are told to hold on to this eternal perspective. It enables us to rejoice in the hope that is yet to come.

I also firmly believe God is not just a passive observer of world events. He works in and through people’s hearts, words, actions and situations to make Himself known in the darkest of times. As Christians too we are called to be light in the darkness, to love one another unselfishly and in doing so, point people towards Him. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack, London tube stations were displaying messages of hope to the hundreds of commuters trying to carry on their normal routine. These two in particular seem very fitting.

“Bad things do happen in the world … but out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

It’s comforting that God doesn’t just abandon us when the going gets tough but uses people for good in the worst situations imaginable. Heroic tales of bravery and courage often go hand in hand with tragedy. We are called to be His hands and feet in the world , even when it seems like we aren’t making a difference. We might feel like we are facing a rising tide yet it only takes a little bit of light to overcome the darkness of night.

So how can we rejoice today? By finding hope in the fact that God is still good. That He is still present. And that He will use work in and through the very darkest of situations to bring light to a broken world. I hope you can glimpse some of that joy today.

 

*I have been referencing this book a ton throughout my recent blog posts so It feels only right to share the link with you! 🙂

The pursuit of perfection

IMG_1104Two weeks after my daughter’s second birthday and the lingering signs of celebration are still evident. Half deflated balloons are still scattered around the playroom, birthday cards are still on display. We’re still slowly but surely chipping away at some of the leftover (non perishable!) food from her birthday party. It was a great day, full of good company, food, toddler meltdowns and lots of memories. But if I’m being honest…there may have been a teeny sigh of relief when it was all over. Celebrating can take a lot of effort!

I wonder why that is? Why we can’t just let go and enjoy the celebration without making everything so complicated? To quote an article a friend posted recently, we should be aiming for “Happiness over Perfection.” Three little words but oh so powerful.  For so many of us the opposite holds true. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in all the details, trying to make everything oh so pinterest-worthy and perfect that we forget to actually enjoy the celebration in the first place. Or even worse, prevent the celebration from even taking place? How many times have I held back from inviting someone over  because I didn’t feel my house was organized enough or up to scratch? I have stressed over parties, worried that my hosting skills would be inadequate somehow, that people wouldn’t have a good time, if the food would be well received. I have friends who seem like natural hostesses and yet I’m sure the same thoughts run through their heads too- at least it would make me feel better if they did!

It doesn’t just stop there though. As women, we compare our homes, our children, our finances, our lifestyles to those around us, forgetting that only the very best version of ourselves is ever presented on social media. We pursue worldly standards of success and attainment, often unrealistic and unreachable, that only serve to make us feel inadequate at the end of the day.  We want our lives to be, or at least appear to be, perfect. And somewhere along the way – that quest for perfection robs us of our joy, stopping us from enjoying what we do have and celebrating the moment.

God does not expect perfection from us. He knows us. He knows we will never measure up. So he gave us a Savior, who was and is perfect on our behalf. This perfection that we are pursuing, often distracts and diverts our focus from God, instead of resting in His grace and His mercy, and pursuing His calling on our life. We need to listen to God when He tells us to pursue His ways rather than the ways of the world (Romans 12:2). That He is enough (Philippians 4:19). That we do not require anyone else’s approval for we are a child of God, set apart and dearly loved.

My daughter still greets her Peppa Pig birthday balloons with joy when she sees them in the morning. She still pores over her birthday cards, meticulously looking at each picture and having us read them aloud. She asks us to sing the happy birthday song over and over and wants to look again and again at videos and pictures of her party. Her little heart is still being sustained by the joy of the event.In the same way sometimes we need a celebration to break through the monotony of life or the hardships we are going through. A celebration, whether it’s a gathering with friends, a special night out, even a playdate, can sustain us and be a joy giver when we need it the most.

So what’s stopping you from unleashing that joy? What standards of perfection are you trying to pursue? Let’s take a breath this morning and give ourselves a break.

In God’s eyes, we are enough. Stop the striving and just rest in his presence today.