Whisper of Hope, Expecting Great Things

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning, I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 5:3

For any parent who has raised a strong-willed child (look to my parents and my in-laws), there are days where the battle feels relentless and hopeless. Add to a strong-will things like high sensitivity, intelligence, a low tolerance for injustice, and some big emotions that occasionally precede big reactions (if you’re still reading and can relate, hang in there…), then your battles feel exhausting, frightening, and completely out of control. As the parent who homeschools our children and is primarily the one with them, these battles have left me defeated, scared, lying on the floor in a hallway or in a bathroom, too spent to even weep. Fortunately, my husband has invested a good portion of his own sanity into similar battles with our kids and understands when I plead for permission to give up (yet doesn’t let me).

Any parent who has really spent a significant time in a constant power struggle with a child will know that at some point your mind starts to wonder about the future. It is easy, so easy, for fear to seep in. We start to wonder what their future relationships will look like, we fear about their (in)ability to function in school, in a job. On bad days we envision them in a hospital or behind bars and we shudder. Worse than the exhausting struggles are the places we go in our heads.

With children about to enter the pre-teen and teen years, my worries double. How can an emotionally volatile child handle the hormones of puberty?! I have to talk myself out of victim mentality because often a parent can feel wounded and traumatized by a child’s outbursts, words, tantrums. I have to remember that I LOVE fiercely beyond words these people whom God placed in my arms. I have to embrace the kind of unconditional love that the Father has given me and I cannot cling to a victim mentality.

This is where I’ve been. I’ve walked dark valleys and have spent far too little time on mountaintops as a mother. But I want to cherish those mountain tops! I want to hold those moments up as HOPE! In my dark moments, I need to remember the times that hope shone forth.

Today was one of those days. Our family joked about it light-heartedly, but upon reflection, it was a bigger moment to me than anyone else can imagine.

After picking up my very feistiest daughter (don’t correct my grammar, sometimes bad grammar is necessary) from a class, she quickly informed me that another student from her class was chasing after and tripping a friend of hers, another classmate. Apparently, this is common behavior. She informed me that she turned to said bully and in her sweet but deep voice said, “{Name of bully}, stop it.” Preach.

Our family joked with her…did you give him “the look”? Meaning, the look of burning rage that is usually directed at one of us. She happily confirmed and she informed us that he stopped and seemed almost surprised. My first reaction was (ugh, typical!) of guilt. I apologized for not getting to her class in time to walk her and her friend out of the building (I had no idea this other child was picking on anyone). But she consoled me, “It’s ok, mom, {Name of bully} needs to learn.” Hahaha! I internally laughed hysterically! Of course, my petite little girl would be the one to teach him a lesson! Of course she figured she was just the one to do it! No bully could imagine the fury they could face from such a sweet and soft-spoken girl! We applauded her and teased her that we were happy she was finally using her rage for good. She took the teasing well and I think she was empowered.

As sane human beings, we teach non-violence in our family based on the teaching and life of Jesus. Matthew 5:38-40 tells us not to resist an evil person. But I also teach my three girls that we stand up for others. We defend the cause of the defenseless. Isaiah 1:17 says, “Learn to do right. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” I teach them at a very early age that we cannot hit or bite others, but if there is a bad person trying to hurt them, they should bite and hit and scream. (As preschoolers, they are flabbergasted by this!) As they get older, we talk about what it means to stand up for others. I want my kids to be creative in the face of oppression, injustice, and bullying. A skinny, quiet little girl growling a command at a bully would certainly be unexpected.

The hope I was given by such a little incident was that indeed my child was created by a loving and perfect God. The very traits that I have tried to pray away or at least tame are indeed the very traits that God will use to change the world through her. Who will fight injustice except those who feel it so deeply and are passionate enough and, Lord help me, persistent enough to see the fight through? Who can grab attention with softly spoken words except one who has a fire burning in her eyes and belly? My prayer is no longer to quench that fire, but for it to be flamed by the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that my daughter grasps at a young age that her battle is not against flesh–mankind, but against the powers of the dark world we do not see. My prayer is that I can show her what it means to pray for my enemies and bless those that persecute me.

Our world needs more quiet voices that firmly and persistently whisper the truth. Whisper hope. In a time when we are overwhelmed by the voices that shout the loudest, the quiet truth will prevail. Hope.

Staying Attentive

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Recently I was reading about 10 characteristics that are important for you to exhibit to your children.  Of the 10, I was challenged in some way by pretty much every one…..they included traits such as patience and practices such as encouragement and affirmation.

The one I took to heart, though, was attentiveness.  I want to have a good relationship with my kids.  As they grow, I want to cultivate open communication.  I want them to know that I can listen, that I hear what they are saying, and that it all matters to me.  With two chatty preschoolers, I confess that I probably rarely show them this.  I struggle to attentively listen to a 3 year old’s summary of the last Dora video she watched.  I debate the value of listening to my five year old’s complaints that no one loves her because we put her on time-out when she misbehaves.  I really think I spend a large part of my day not being attentive and I worry that in filtering out the aforementioned chatter, I might also miss something of real value.

So how do I begin to practice attentiveness without indulging every whim and complaint?  I spent a day trying to be attentive.  It took a lot of my focus and energy.  I was tired by the end of the day and I honestly felt like I was falling behind in so many things that fall under my responsibility (laundry was interrupted by a hurt child, the computer was off limits for me all day, and managing finances and being attentive to young children do not agree).  I was up until 11:30pm trying to catch up on what I failed to accomplish during a day of turning myself to my children.

But you know what?  The girls had a good day.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. I was exhausted but they weren’t clamoring for attention (neither good or bad).  We played games, I allowed them time to share what they hoped to do, I took time to rock and comfort when there were owies.  And I asked questions and I listened.

But now today I have already failed at being attentive.  From the moment we woke up, I failed.  And what has today been?  Lots of fits, time outs, fighting amongst themselves, and me hiding away on the computer because I’m too tired to stay up late tonight to catch up.  And you know what?  I’m more exhausted by the dramatics of today than the energy expenditure yesterday.

So how do we balance it all?  How do we take time to listen to our children, to be available to them and yet get anything done during the day?  How do we summon the energy and strength to work late at night in order to catch up on all the things that seem rightfully lower in priority than our children?

I want to be attentive to my beautiful little girls.  I want to build a foundation now that will be instrumental to a meaningful relationship as they grow and mature.  Lord, grant me the energy and the strength and the wisdom to know when I need to stop and listen!

R & R

A Breaking Point

Life has been busy lately.  I’ve felt the weight of the world on my shoulders (well, more like on my chest….I get short of breath when I’m stressed out).  Nothing in particular has been more than what I think I should be able to handle.  Sick kids, but not any more sick than they have been before.  A hectic schedule.  Friends and family members in need of prayer.  For some reason, though, all the things in my life that were pushing the very breath out of my lungs starting ganging up on me and I felt I couldn’t handle one more day of parenthood.

Life lesson: call a grandma.

My husband called his parents and asked how quickly they could meet me at a halfway point between our homes (an hour for each of us) and take home one little girl with them for a couple of days.  We were on the road within half an hour.  I knew that a few days with “Nana” and “Boppa” would be just what a crabby/insubordinate  little girl needed.  And exactly what a frazzled mother needed–a small break.

Small Blessings

One of the blessings I wasn’t thinking about when I was arranging my little “break” was the time spent alone with my youngest daughter.  Beautiful and fun aspects of her personality showed themselves when it was just the two of us.  I realized how I had wrongly assumed some things about her.  I.e. I had diagnosed her with the attention span of a housefly, but discovered that her “inability” to stick to a task has more to do with her desire to tag after her big sister than her lack of attention span.  I always knew that she was an observer, but was surprised to hear her tell me about memories she held in her little 2 1/2 year old mind.  She must just never take the opportunity to try to talk over her big sister.  I truly enjoyed all the little moments we shared in our time together.

Rest and Refocus (You didn’t think my other “R” was recreation, did you?!)

My small break was not without some looking inward and finding myself guilty of wayward behaviors that surely were contributing to my parenting burnout.  (I had been wavering between blaming it all on my kids and just blaming it on the blanket lie that I was “just a bad mom.”)  I know all too well that God doesn’t burden us with hopeless guilt, but I was allowing that to be one of my cop-outs when things weren’t going well.  Over a couple of quiet days, I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me of anger.  Proverbs 29:11 plainly tells of my foolishness: A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”  When my children needed consequences, I was too easily giving full vent to my anger.  The consequences might have been the same as they always are, but I knew in my heart that my anger was overflowing in my words and body language and I wasn’t even trying to keep myself in check.  I spent the following day praying for strength and discipline so that I could display the fruits of the Spirit, not the fruits of foolishness.

Assurance

Another thing that I beat myself up over regularly is my weakness.  Make that weaknesses.  I only have two small children and somehow I find myself burned out and depleted.  Someday, God willing, we might have more children in our family.  Can I just not handle it?  Am I just not cut out for motherhood, even though in my heart I feel so called to it?  Why am I SO WEAK?

Today I reminded myself how seriously I carry the responsibility of raising Godly children.  Whether I have two children or ten of them (Lord help me!), I will always pour everything that I have into it.  I have high expectations for the kind of mother I should be.  I have high expectations for my children (within reason, I believe).  I never take for granted that my children will just “turn out”; I never excuse or ignore behavior just because it’s age-relevant for them.  I’m certainly not perfect (read above), but I take my job very seriously.  I work hard.  Sometimes I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Sometimes I become so convinced that my parenting must be completely ineffective that I want to throw in the towel.

And then God reminds me that in my weakness HE is strong.  I know I have to work hard.  I have to keep at it when it seems like nothing is working.  Sometimes I have to ask for help.  From my husband (of course!), from family, from friends, from God. Because I cannot always do it on my own strength.  And hopefully, if there comes a day when my children grow into Godly women, I will remember Who gets the credit.

Keepin’ Busy

The Lord has been blessing me with freedom in some areas that I (of course, unknowingly for the most part) desperately needed it in.  One blessing came today while meeting for the first time with my new mentor (!), *V*.  We were reading Titus together as a means of giving our meeting time some direction from here on out.  She pointed out a couple of things from this brief passage:

3Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

The one that felt like so much freedom to me were the words: “be busy at home.”  In the past I’ve always focused on the “busy” part of that verse and felt like a hard-working wife and mother should be a busy-bee.  But what *V* stressed was the “at home” aspect of the verse.  I seriously felt a huge weight lift off of me.  So often I am trying to maintain friendships, help people out, serve in the church, be a part of activities that seem fine and good, but really just keep me away from home.  This kind of busyness stresses me out.  I am a person who needs to get out of the house on a regular basis and I do have a need to connect with people, but I really need to remember that my primary responsibility is to provide a loving, Godly, peaceful, and joyful home for my husband and children.  I know that it will only be a matter of time before I feel guilt or pressure to ignore this responsibility for “more important” responsibilities, but I pray that I will be brought back over and over again to what is important.

She also offered me some words from Ruth Bell Graham.  Essentially Mrs. Graham was reminding women to do the possible (nuture, guide, love, instruct; for our children–discipline) and entrust the impossible to God (conviction of sin, salvation).  Freedom, sisters.  What freedom!  While freedom doesn’t take away our responsibility, it takes away that suffocating burden that keeps us burrowed in our failures, our weaknesses, and our hopelessness.  Galatians 5 is this week’s proclamation and promise for me:

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Can I get a witness?!

Suggestions for wives and mothers

Just wanted to throw out a couple of websites that have been a blessing to me as a wife and mother.  You can subscribe to both of these and get daily, or at least regular, emails.  For a year I subscribed to The Generous Wife.  (I unsubscribed for awhile because I began to feel overwhelmed by the emails that were adding up in my inbox, so I now subscribed to the site in Google Reader, which overwhelms me less than an inbox).  This site gives a lot of creative ways to bless your husband and your marriage with gifts, words of encouragement, or new traditions (warning: “lovemaking” is one of the oft-suggested ways to bless….lol….).  I didn’t take every single day’s suggestion and put it into action, but it at least provided me with a moment each day to consciously think of my hubby and a way to bless him.

Someone also recommended a new site to me that also offers an email subscription, but I subscribed to it in Google Reader.  🙂  I also added the link over to the right.  It’s (In)Courage and has a lot of great insight and Godly wisdom and advice for mothers and wives.

I wanted to share with you in the hopes that one or both of these might bless you!  Enjoy, ladies!

So Shy

Both of my girls are frightfully shy in situations with new people or in situations with lots of people.  Annika is slowly getting better, but it is taking forever.  When we get to church, for example, and are greeted by a variety of people that we know and that the girls are familiar with, Annika will still not say “hello.”  We’ve gotten her to the point where she’ll smile (Sofie just glares, which is what Annika used to do, but Sofie looks way meaner).  Now what?  I’ve tried using rewards (a star on the chore chart) as incentive, and sometimes, rarely, that works.  Now I’m wondering if I should begin giving consequences in situations where I tell her to say, “hello” and she won’t.  Any ideas?  What kind of consequences would be appropriate?

I feel like it is getting to the point where it comes off as rudeness.  Dave and I were both very shy children–we remember this about ourselves.  I don’t remember having to say hello to adults, I think I was just expected to be well-behaved and quiet.   I grew out of that quite quickly and by elementary school knew I had to be polite and say “hi.”  By high school and beyond, I probably became obnoxiously friendly, although I do often still feel shyness welling up inside me.  I want my children to be okay with being reserved or quiet, but I feel that it is important that they can at least smile and say “hi” to adults when prompted by Dave or me.  Help!

Godly Mentoring

“Mentorless”

I remember first hearing my Christian high school friends talking about getting together with “older women” from their church for mentorship.  As a high schooler, I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant, but remembered thinking it cool that an adult was taking time to hang out with a teenager!  I certainly appreciated times that two different pastors from my church took time to spend with me, hang out, ask questions, give advice, etc.  Although I appreciated those relationships, I certainly didn’t have anything as intentional as a mentorship with them.

Fast forward, gosh, how many years….I think I’ve been out of high school for 13 years.  I still have not yet had a mentor, mostly because there haven’t been older women (outside of my family) that I really felt like I connected with.  After moving a few hours away from family, I have felt a greater need to have wise Godly women in my life.  Literally for over a year I have been praying specifically for a mentor-like relationship.  One woman from my church, whom I hardly know at all, has come to mind every single time I’ve prayed about it.  No one else.  My husband has encouraged me to call her and ask her to be a mentor to me, but I have just lacked courage and initiative.

Courage at last!

Two weeks ago, an 8th grade girl from church approached me and asked me if she and I could meet once in awhile.  The more I talked to her, I realized that she was looking to me as a mentor (and had this confirmed with a follow-up conversation with her mom).  I was honored and delighted–this young woman is on fire for the Lord!  I have been excitedly thinking of ways that God may want to direct this relationship.  Recognizing my own weaknesses and my current need to be encouraged and challenged, I have also been feeling a pressing need to get up my gumption (heck, a 13 year old could do it!) and call the woman, let’s just call *V*, that God kept putting in my mind as my own mentor.

Monday night at our church’s Ladies’ Christmas Tea, *V* was in my direct line of vision the whole night.  I listened to another woman, whom I also admire, from our church speak and while I thought she would also make a good mentor, the Lord kept pulling me towards *V*.  I didn’t get a chance to visit with her that night, but finally called her today.  I encouraged her to pray about it first, but she said that her first inclination was a resounding “yes.”  I feel as excited as a….13 year old who gets to hang out with a grown up!  😉  She immediately referenced Titus as the Biblical responsibility for older women to be encouraging younger women.  Titus 2 says:

3Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.4Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Now what?

*V* and I agreed to pray over the holidays about how we should proceed and then try to connect after the first of they year.  Ultimately, I would love to just get to know *V* better–I think we have similar, yet not identical, personalities.  If God so leads us, somehow I would like to obtain wisdom, advice, and encouragement from a woman who has been married for many more years than myself, who has raised her children, who has walked with the Lord longer than I’ve been alive (ha, ha, I’ll have to tell her that!), and has made some mistakes and learned some lessons.  Seeing as I’ve never had a mentor, I’d love to hear from some of you who have (or who have been Godly mentors to younger women than yourself).  What are some things that worked?  Did you do a specific Bible Study?  Did you set Godly goals?  Did you just visit and pray?  I’d love to hear what others have done!

What is in a name?

Someone always says it better than I can

I started reading a book called “Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches”  by Russell D. Moore. On a note unrelated to what I’m posting about, I highly recommend this book!  Not only is it great perspective and Godly insight for adoptive families, it is an incredible book that explains our adoption, as believers, into God’s kingdom.  It also speaks volumes to the body of Christ, in general.  The author says, “In this book I want to call us all to consider how encouraging adoption–whether we adopt or whether we help others adopt–can help us peer into the ancient mystery of our faith in Christ and can help us restore the fracturing unity….of our congregations.”  Amen!

In this book, the author talks about giving his Russian adopted children new names.  He explains, contrary to what a lot of adoption sources recommend, the good in renaming his children once they came into his family.  He uses countless Biblical examples of how God renamed people….Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul.  God gave people new names when He gave them new identities–identities that were wrapped up in Him.

Growing into a name

The author specifically mentioned Peter, whose name means, “The Rock.”  If we read a lot of the stories of Peter in the gospels, he hardly seems like “a rock.”  Instead, he flounders in his faith and begins to sink in the ocean, he denied Christ after vehemently swearing he wouldn’t, etc.  Little did anyone know (except Christ) that Peter would become the rock, the foundation, of God’s church.  Sometimes we grow into the name we are given.

Naming my children

Like any expectant parents pregnant with a child, my husband and I spent months considering names for our children.  During both pregnancies, we found out we were expecting girls, so even though we had “back-up”  boy names, we primarily focused on female names.  We used factors to judge names that a lot of parents use: popularity (we wanted an uncommon name), how it sounded with our last name (having a long Polish name, you can imagine some thought went into this factor), whether or not we had any negative associations with the name, whether or not it was “cute” and yet “sturdy” (perfect for a baby and yet appropriate for a young woman), and of course whether or not anyone could taunt our child with her name (Apple, Florence, etc).  After sorting through countless names this way, it all came down to one factor for me–what the name meant.  For reasons I couldn’t explain at the time, it was really important for me to give my daughter a name that had a good meaning.   My first-born’s name means “Favor or Grace of God.”  My second-born’s name means “Wisdom” and her middle name means “Of God”.  I prayed these identities for my daughters while still pregnant with them.

Ironically, I can’t say I see these identities in my daughters right now.  To be honest, there have been moments where I think I must have given them the wrong names because their character can seem so opposite of what their names mean!  My oldest daughter is incredibly clumsy and sassy and spunky.  There are days when I beg for God’s favor or grace to rest upon her (hence, on me!).  My youngest daughter, still only 2, is a complete goof-ball and sometimes a bit hard-headed.  Certainly not the child I would imagine to be considered wise.

Now of course it is absurd to be looking for these qualities in such young children, but in all honesty, I may not see those little identities form until they are well into adulthood.  I look at Peter and how Christ gave him a name that Simon (and others) perhaps could not understand or imagine to be indicative of his identity.  My prayer continues to be that my daughters will grow into the women of character that I named them for and that God intended them to be.

P.S.  My name means “princess”…..hmmm…fitting?  Whether good or bad, don’t bother commenting on that….ha, ha.  It is the name that God gives Sarai after He promises her a child.  I like being a woman of God’s promise!  Do you know what your name means?

Lessons That Last

My husband and I try to be intentional in our parenting.  It doesn’t always happen–we certainly find ourselves in survival mode a lot.  Particularly when life is busy, kids are sick, or kids are just plain trying.  But we always try to come back around and re-evaluate what is important for us to teach to our children and how we should go about doing that.

Today I was reading a part of the Beth Moore “Esther” study.  Moore acknowledged that she was going off on a bit of a tangent, but prayed that it would serve a purpose.  I was so grateful for her tangent!  She spoke of something that both Dave and I encountered as we left behind our childhoods and entered adulthood.  We both grew up in smaller communities and we were both pretty good students.  We received a lot of praise and encouragement because of it.  After high school, we each found ourselves at liberal arts colleges, surrounded by hundreds of other small-town kids who had been praised and encouraged for their talents and smarts.  All of a sudden we found ourselves pretty mediocre, at best.  It was a transition that we both clearly remember, but fortunately we both adjusted well and haven’t struggled through adulthood thinking that we should be accomplishing incredible things or that we are failures because we aren’t nuclear physicists or anything.  I guess there is some book called, “My So-Called Genius” that a woman wrote about this exact thing in her own life–I have to read it!

Anyway, Beth Moore reminded parents to encourage their children in things that matter in an eternal perspective, not just in things that bring earthly success.  She instructed us to read some words of encouragement that Paul gave to Timothy in 1 Timothy.  My paraphrase is exactly what I want to instruct my children in:  “Set an example in life, in love, in faith, and in purity. Do not neglect your gift.  Be diligent.  Work hard.”

I love encouraging my children.  I love being delighted and surprised and proud when they accomplish new things or figure something out on their own.  I think this is a wonderful thing, but over the last few days, my pastor’s words from a sermon he gave over a year ago have been swimming in my head: “Your children are not for your glory.  They are for God’s glory.”

How hard it is for us to see our children fail at something.  How humiliating when our children embarrass us in front of others with bad behavior or words.  How frustrating when we instruct and discipline and work so hard and yet find ourselves coming up short.  Remembering that my children are not in my life or on this earth for my glory brings a certain humility and freedom to my mother’s heart.  When I remember that I parent, teach, and discipline in order to direct my children’s hearts to God, I also remember that I cannot give up.

I was kept awake last night for over two hours with worries and concerns, so I spent that time in prayer.  One of my desperate prayers last night was that I would be diligent in Godly parenting.  I loved that God gave me fresh instruction this morning in a random tangent in a Bible Study.  As a mom, I hope that I can set an example for my children “in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”  That I do not neglect the gift of motherhood that has been given to me and that I stay diligent!