33…A Letter to my Former Self

I turned 33 today.

A part of me is in disbelief that I am that old. A part of me is in disbelief that I have stuffed so much life into 33 short years. Thank you, God, for every blessing. I kept thinking of what I would say to myself a decade ago and two decades ago. Maybe I will be able to share this with my daughter when she turns 13.

Dear 13 Year Old Self,
  1. The crooked teeth, glasses, chicken legs, and acne will not last forever. You will survive. People will forget. Hang in there. Braces are still coming. Sorry. Your dad is right about how beautiful you are. You are wrong.
  2. That commitment you made last year to read your Bible every day? Don’t give up. Even when life gets full and busy. In a couple of years, Becky Greenlaw will tell you to write in your Bible and date it as you read. You will be so glad you did. Thanks, Becky.
  3. I know it often feels like you care more about people than they care about you. Hang in there and don’t give up. That’s not a weakness or a flaw. Don’t get tired; don’t get hard. Love with your whole heart, let it hurt, and the Giver and Source of all love will make sure you stay full.
  4. Keep your heart open to your parents all through your teen years. They do understand and they will help you stay the course. You will thank God for every way you listened, learned, and honored them. You will regret any instance of disrespecting them, even in attitude or tone. They have given so much for you.
  5. You will spend the next years serving with a ministry that will cause some to thrive and some to choke on legalism. Take the good, leave the bad, God is going to do great things in your life through what you learn, the experience you gain, and through the people you meet. There is a ton of truth at the heart of what you’re learning.
  6. I know you’re a nerd, but keep holing up in your room with those books. They will shape many of your ideals and values. But learn how to play volleyball. Pro tip: It works best if you open your eyes when the ball comes toward you.
  7. Keep up all the writing you do – the letters, journals, stories, and keep at the hardcore English work. It will serve you well. You will never lose your love for that outlet.
  8. You know those best friends you have? Jennifer, Rebekah, Casey, and very soon many more like Camile? Love them hard. They will stay important to you forever. And you will come to realize that it is not common to have girls like that in your life from the beginning. They will set the bar high for your friendships and keep you steady through the next years.
  9. You’re going to get another sister! And those two girls are going to always be a massive piece of your heart. Spend lots of time with them. Your years together at home are short. But there are many more years of sweet relationship afterwards. Listen to those precious brothers. They know you better than you know yourself.
  10. Everyone thinks you’re crazy because you say you want lots of kids. Ignore them. I’m not sure we ever experience the best things without some crazy thrown in. Don’t settle for a guy who doesn’t have your heart for a family.
  11. You’re not going to believe this one. Cutest guy you know…not only is he going to pay attention to you eventually, he’s going to love you. I just blew your mind. Keep focusing on Jesus and just save all that lovin’ for later. You will have a first love with the man of your dreams and you will spend every day thanking God that you married him. It will get better every year with everything that you share.
  12. You have a lot of ministry to pack into your teen years because you will marry early and grow up with your husband as a team. Pack it all in. The traveling, teaching, learning, etc. These are great years. And they shape a lot of the ministry you will have for the rest of your life. Don’t stress over doing it perfect. Don’t try to make everyone happy. Enjoy it. I know you feel lonely at church, but listen to your parents and invest there as well. Out of that will grow the most tremendous relationships with godly women and incredible families, and the job you will love with all of your heart. Jenni New is going to play a huge part in this. God will use her to shape you and prepare you. Jill Coan is going to ask you to teach homeschooling families who will mean the world to you. Watch those moms closely. They will teach you a lot.
  13. Another crazy thought. That room that you read, cry, pray, think, and yes, still play in – your beautiful daughter lives there now. But she sleeps in the other room with her brothers a lot. Like you did when the mouse was in the house. That happens again too. But you handle it better this time.

13 year old self, you are so loved. You are so blessed. You toddle with God now, but more is coming.

Dear 23  Year Old Self,
  1. You’re still figuring out this marriage thing, but you love it. You have no idea how much better it will get. You will never regret for a millisecond that you married him. And wait until it turns out he’s a genius! Just like you always knew he was.
  2. You feel distanced from your friends because you’re in different places, but you’ve made new married friends at church. You have no idea what just happened. Shelly, Chesley, and many more girls to come will be a huge part of your motherhood. God will intertwine your hearts and carry you through so much together. Celebrate this new beginning because it’s a big one.
  3. No birth control, two years, and still praying for a child. Your first pregnancy ended in miscarriage earlier this year and your heart broke. You don’t want to know this, but it will happen four more times. And every time God will gently carry you to a new place of sympathy for others, of gratitude for the miracle of life, of delight in the simplest moments of motherhood. Embrace the work in your heart of waiting. I know you’re scared that the thing you want most in the world will not happen for you. Hold on. Hold on.
  4. But now the good news. Next month you will find out you’re expecting. You will fight through the fears that you will lose this baby too, but you won’t. He will be your gift from God, your beloved firstborn. Your heart will never be the same. And motherhood will be more than you ever dreamed. You will literally love it all. And over the next decade your home will be filled with FIVE babies. Can you even take it? Sleep and eat hot food now.
  5. Continue to invest in your family. While it’s not on your radar, the next decade includes a move away. You will miss them. But God will teach you a lot and you’ll be back.
  6. On that note, enjoy your first house. You get to move three times in the next decade. It’s fun but exhausting. Your tiny first home will always be special.
  7. The next six months will be your last months to work outside of the home. Enjoy your relationships, the ministry, and all that you learn. You’ll quit before the baby comes because you’ve thrown up in every bathroom at the church where you work. So you just stay home to finish out the pregnancy.
  8. You have no concept how many baby showers you will throw and/or attend in the next few years. It’s mind boggling. Get good at it. Hospitality will become a huge part of your family for a season. Let go of perfection and enjoy it. When you get that snickerdoodle recipe, write it down. You’re going to need it a few times.
  9. Hold true to who you are, not to something you try to be. There is no pressure. God’s calling is not ever limited by you, only by your willingness or unwillingness to obey. He has big things. Don’t hold Him back because you don’t believe what HE says about you. You can do whatever He asks of you.
  10. The next decade will be a whirlwind. Try to stay present at all times. Don’t miss anything because you were there but absent.
  11. Clear your throat. God is going to give you a voice that will surprise you in ways you can’t even understand yet. Be an advocate for moms. Fight for their families’ health – spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Fight for their children. Fight against what is normal and accepted if that’s what it takes. Speak up, never stay quiet out of fear. If God gives you a story, tell it. If he gives you a life experience, share it. If He gives you hope and answers, love other women enough to pass it on.
  12. Stay strong and battle through as God takes you through a health, eating, learning revolution through your own health struggles. You have no idea the doors that is going to open. He is giving you a gift of knowledge by showing you early that changes need to be made!
  13. Continue to love people. If they completely and totally disagree with you in every way, love them. Everyone needs love. They need your love! Give it away freely.

23 year old self, you are so loved. You are so blessed. You walk with God now, but more is coming.

Dear 33 year old self, shall we throw off all restraints and just run with God through this next decade? I believe we will give it a try.

Finding God in the Mommy Mess

Tonight I stood in the kitchen in the house where I grew up and made salmon patties and thought about my mom. After I called my mom to ask her about her salmon patties. ‘Cause 32 year old mothers of five definitely still do that. Motherhood has been on my heart, not really because of the upcoming holiday, but because of where my heart has been. You know how babies go through growth spurts where they eat and eat and sleep and sleep as they take on inches or pounds in a short period of time? I feel I am there as a mother right now. I am craving more growth, more gentleness, more consistency, more follow-through, and, oh Father, more grace. I am running from formulas and seeking out Spirit-led mentoring, I am sensing that my years are flying and that, like those short nights of sleep, I will not feel they have been long enough. I am desperately looking for more ways to simply mirror Christ to my children because while I might question their diet, habits, learning, involvement, or any other number of pieces in their little puzzles, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that what they need is more Christ.

As I was reading and praying this morning something really struck my spirit and I began to think. Since the beginning of time, the enemy has been deceiving mankind with the same, old lie. I can’t believe we haven’t wised up and made him get a new one, but we haven’t. And he does it to mothers too. And even in our heart’s cry to be better mothers, we buy into tiny bits and pieces of his story. We begin listening to those whispers that if we will just pant after that forbidden fruit, which is anything except constantly walking with God, where He has placed us, then we will be wiser, better, more like God. He turns and twists the very desire God placed into our heart into something that distracts us from the Creator of that desire! We believe that if we can just “get it right,” or “have it together,” or be happy, fun, beautiful, rested, decorated, gourmet, etc. then we will be the mothers God wants us to be. We will be more like Him. So as I sat there, right before my one year old started screaming and then I fed my kids too late after everyone was already ravenously hungry, I thought to myself that I wanted to whisper a few things to you this week. This is probably being said in many places since I haven’t read a blog in a while, but God laid it on my heart to say it again to you here.

Don’t believe it. You will not be more like God when you finally reach that fruit of perfection that you can’t seem to grasp. When you finally arrive at that goal that you can’t seem to achieve. You, sweet mother, are like God when you do these things:

You’ve just lowered your weary self into bed and prepared to snatch some sleep while your mind keeps racing to all the things you didn’t get done today. Right as your head hits the pillow, you hear the cries of your baby. You think, “You are kidding me!” and then you get up, walk to that bed, pick up that sweet one and show her that mommy is right there. It is not because you have all the answers to sleep training and rest for your family that you are showing God to your babies, it is simply because you are there, training those hearts that God is available when they cry out, even in the night. –Psalm 121

You know that a kitchen full of dirty dishes is waiting for you once everyone is in bed. Not time to yourself but a to-do list the size of the Empire State Building. Your eyes are blurry, but that’s okay because you have this mentally stimulating book completely memorized…but you still read Green Eggs and Ham one. more. time. Because he loves it and you love him. You are not showing God to your babies because the book chosen will develop an Einstein brain, a Spurgeon zeal, and an Aylward heart. No, you are showing God because that small one isn’t really hearing, “I am Sam. Sam I am.” over and over. He is hearing, “I am loved. Loved I am.” – Psalm 16

You bathe the vomiting little one, take all the appropriate precautions to protect other children, prepare yourself for a tough night, place the big bowl by the bed covered in a towel, rub the sweet face, do your best to soothe the upset tummy, start the laundry, lay there until the tiny, suffering one is resting, stumble your weary, smelly self down the hall…and then go outside to clean puke out of the car seat. Because you are not showing God to your babies because your diet is so perfect and your health precautions so strategic that no illness ever dares to show its face in your home. No, you are showing God because is He not the beautiful Redeemer of messes, the Cleaner of our vomit, the Healer of our mistakes? Precious, Loving One. – Psalm 103

You put another load of laundry in the washer, in the dryer, you bless the person who invited the washing machine and curse Adam and Eve for shutting down nakedness as an option. You fold, and fold, and fold, and imagine that someday we will throw clothes in a hamper and they will somehow get clean and back in their drawers. You pretend that the pile of ironing is not taller than your toddler and wonder if body odor on clothing is really quite as bad as we act like it is. You wish that there was one job in all of mothering that stayed done for, I don’t know, fifteen minutes. You are not showing God to your family because it is all done and perfect. Because they never have to hunt for clean underwear or wonder if they still own that button-down that is probably outgrown at the bottom of Mount Wrinkled. You are showing God to them because they see you in the process of serving. Because sometimes we wash the feet and sometimes we launder the socks that go on the feet 9,878 times. – John 13:12-17

You wash another dish, kiss another face, bandage another knee, dry another tear, answer another question, walk another mile, and wonder why you can’t “succeed” when the success is happening right inside your heart and right inside of theirs. You know how I stood in the kitchen and made salmon patties while I thought about my mom? I can’t remember what she said to me on those particular days. What happened specifically. I know she was there. I know she cooked food for me. I know she was my mother. Success. Win. Enough. Why do we let the tempting hiss of the serpent become louder than the comforting lullaby of the Savior who has declared our efforts ENOUGH through His grace and mercy! And because we are all sitting here doing what mothers do and finding a new reason to beat ourselves up because we’ve been beating ourselves up, hold this verse close to your heart today:

I am the Lord, your Holy One,
Israel’s Creator and King.
16 I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters,
making a dry path through the sea.
17 I called forth the mighty army of Egypt
with all its chariots and horses.
I drew them beneath the waves, and they drowned,
their lives snuffed out like a smoldering candlewick.

18 “But forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
19 For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
20 The wild animals in the fields will thank me,
the jackals and owls, too,
for giving them water in the desert.
Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland
so my chosen people can be refreshed.
21 I have made Israel for myself,
and they will someday honor me before the whole world.

Isaiah 43:18-21

Over and over He told Israel all that He would do for them if they would do one, simple thing.

Put Him first.

And we stretch for that dangling fruit of perfection when all the while He waits for us in the vomiting, wrinkled, dirty, unshowered, difficult, endless mess that is life. Beautiful life. I am ready to refuse the stress that will alienate my children from the grace of God and instead accept the grace He offers that will draw their hearts like moths to a lantern. I will always be trying to do better. To schedule, to be healthy, to be more efficient and productive. Always. Because He’s given me a job to do and I will die trying to do it well. But in that trying I will also be resting in the fact that the God they see is not in what I do but in the One I reflect to them.

Happy Mother’s Day, beloved ones. Whether today is Pinterest Mommy or Comic Strip Mommy, just revel in the fact that today is one more opportunity for His strength to be made perfect in our weakness. Let’s watch Him make rivers in the wasteland so that the whole world will honor Him.

Being Desperate Together Breeds Hope

Sorry I didn’t get this posted last night. I put everyone’s names in a website “randomizer” and it gave me a winner for a copy of Desperate. But you’ll have to wait until the end of this. 😉 I would really encourage the rest of you to order your copies soon and maybe order a second one to give to a mommy friend. There is no way that too much hope can be spread in our mothering journey. Never let Satan convince you that you are alone. Your Heavenly Father is there to walk every step with you, there are other mommies who may be doing things differently but can still have great heart and understanding for where your journey has taken you, AND I am finding more and more that there are always other mommies, closer than you might think, who will have situations extremely similar to your own. As Sally says in this book, in almost every situation where she found community, and hope, and togetherness, it was because she started something. She reached out. She drew others to herself. But, in order to do that, there has to be something inside of us worth giving. And never equate ease of situation, ducks in a row, or having it together with something worth giving. Those who give the most often give it out of their deepest heartaches or their greatest need. It is a crazy thing, the way life works. When we feel the most need, if we will reach down to our core, cry out to God, and focus on giving rather than getting, the most amazing things begin to happen.

John V and I were reading about David Livingstone in school this week as we studied the continent of Africa and different cultures and missionary efforts that have gone into reaching God’s beloved people there. One story was about Livingstone surviving a lion attack that came very close to killing him and greatly damaging his ministry effort, yet it led to him meeting the wife who shared his difficult calling. The story talked about thankfulness even when situations are difficult. I told John V that God is always at work. Always doing miracles. Always working for us. The question is never if He is at work, but are we truly looking with eyes that are open. He is not working for our comfort and our ease. Not for our glory or success. For so much more. For the part of us that will still be there when all this is gone. The part of us that, completely unbelievably, comes out of Him. The part of us that is His breath of life breathed into us creating us to bring Him glory. That can be done anywhere. Everywhere. In any situation. That Romans 8 verse we quote so often comes in the middle of a passage about suffering, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” An amazing promise. Unfortunately we use it in a way sometimes that makes it seem as if He’s promising to work for our good, in the way we want. A few verses before, though, is this one that gives me chills all over, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”

Take a moment to let that sink in. Think about the greatest suffering you have ever experienced. The way it shakes us to our core. Threatens to crack our foundations. Drives us to shaking fists, or bent knees, or both.

But those sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

The overwhelming magnitude of those sufferings, the way they alter our lives forever, they don’t even belong in a sentence with the glory He will reveal…in me? The most difficult things we ever do reap the greatest rewards. Are you desperate today? Fall on your knees and worship the One who turns Desperation into Glory. Not through a Pinterest-worthy house, or a beautiful, nutritious meal, or a Bible study led to perfection…just through His beautiful, ravishing grace. Mamas, He IS enough for you. Today, tomorrow, next week, next year. And even more importantly to us, He IS enough for them. For those little hearts who have no idea how much their mamas want to do it right. Who don’t know how many nights we cry over the quickly said harsh words, or wasted moments, or over how we just can’t be the mom they need. But we can. And we will. The precious blood of Jesus was not shed so we could give up and coast through in survival mode. Stay with your Romans 8, friends, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I don’t know about you, but I need some kind of shield, sword, and a flag to wave right now. Let me at it.

There are different kinds of death that we face. One kind is physical death that comes all at once and this life is over. And we act like that is for martyrs in other countries and, “Praise God, that’s not us.” But I would contend that the question is not if we are called to death. I believe He calls us all to death. A death to ourselves. I’m pretty sure what was good enough for my Jesus is good enough for me, and if that’s where He wants me to follow Him, this girl’s going. And that may look like a missionary in a leper colony, or David Livingstone pushing through uncharted Africa, or it may look like me scrubbing my toilets and choosing not to yell at my kids this morning. It may look like me swallowing my needs and meeting the needs of my husband. It may look like not pushing through school work but listening to every, little idea and bunny trail that comes out of my son’s mouth so that he gets really heard while he’s learning and processing and we catch up on something insignificant in the grand scheme of things tomorrow. It may look like nothing about me seeming very impressive on the outside, but nothing’s gonna separate me from that love. And I’m going to give that love to these babies if I give everything I have in the process, and if no one else in the world understands it.

You are not alone, Mama. You. Are. Not. Alone. Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for your family.

Chills and more chills.

We are not called to “make it,” we are called to be more than conquerors. The last thing in the world that the enemy wants is for mamas to wake up. If He can keep us discouraged, focused elsewhere, distracted, deflated, then he’s in good shape. Otherwise, I promise you there is some serious sweating happening down there. Why do you think being a mom is so, stinkin’ hard? Why do think it drains life force and makes our knees bloody? Because it is a battlefield. And I don’t want to be caught sleeping on my watch. Let’s fight for these babies. And for our hope. And we can do it together. Grab your Bible, grab that book, grab a friend, do the reaching out and watch God surround you with the hope that comes from doing this together.

Oh, and Kristen D., watch for your package. 😉