The Series Will Continue…With a Surprise

I’ve been humbled by the feedback about the series I’ve been doing for moms of young children. Knowing you have been comforted and encouraged means a great deal to me.  When I started this blog back in January I admit it — I had young moms in the forefront of my heart.

So the series will continue next week.

It’s been a little surprising to me how many of you have told me how much you enjoy the real-people aspects to this blog. You see, the main reason I started it was because I wanted to chronicle my musings for my kids and grandkids. At the end of each year of blogging I’m going to put the posts for that year into a bound “book” for them to argue over after I’m gone. I got this idea because I’ve already been repeatedly reminded that one of the first things that’s gonna happen when I die is a rush for the many personal journals that sit on the shelf in my closet. (Shhhh…don’t tell them I already removed one or two that I didn’t want them or anyone to read because they were written during a season when sinful attitudes were flying!…smile.)

Bringing my flawed, crazy and wonderful family into my writing has seemed to make what I communicate “real” — I love that!

My Joey and his Amelia

So…I have a surprise for you on Monday you won’t want to miss!  I’ve asked one of my sons to be a guest contributor. His support for my writing is surpassed by his insightful perspective on motherhood. As the first-time daddy of 18-month-old Amelia, Joey has some things on his heart to share with us that I think will further strengthen and bless you.

I think hearing from a guy will bring a welcomed perspective….

I’ve asked him to do this not primarily because he is a gifted writer but because he’s been an honorable son who now treats his wife with the respect and gratitude I received for years.

But our relationship wasn’t perfect. Joey is going to talk about a season when his relationship with Benny and me was tested. I’m excited about the hope that will spring in your hearts for when times may get tough when your now little ones.

I caught this pic last 4th of July of Joey and his girls.

Special thanks to those of you who have liked, commented and shared the posts on Facebook. You getting the word out is helping this little blog to grow and because of that, more moms are finding they are not alone in both the joys and challenges of motherhood.

If you haven’t done so yet, notice that on the left side of this post there is a “follow blog via email” option. Click there if you’d like to receive email updates whenever a new post is published. If your view doesn’t show this option, click on “Faith Rising” at the top left of the page for a different view.

Have a wonderful weekend and get ready to hear from Joey on Monday!

Blessings,

Sheree

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What Are Your Children Catching These Days?

I’m the blessed mom of both sons and daughters. There are priceless blessings about having both but when you have seven you’re bound to get at least one of each.

That happened to me with our first two.

Jaime was well known for her smiles!

When Joshua was sixteen months old a baby girl came into our lives. Back then you only had sonograms when there was a potential problem so we didn’t know who was coming that Saturday in the fall of 1979. As Benny drove me to the hospital I cried. First because I was overwhelmed that I was having a baby two weeks early on the very day people were coming to help us load a moving van with boxes I had been s-l-o-w-l-y packing for weeks. But my tears were mostly because my baby would be born on the anniversary of my older brother’s death at age 27 just four years earlier. A very sad day was about to become a happy one and I was especially thrilled for my mom. As we left the house she said, “My mourning is about to be turned to joy.” Wow.

If we had a girl Benny wanted her to share my name so we were both hoping for Jaime Sheree. Because of my longstanding battle with infertility (which we didn’t want to presume were over just because God brought us two children in just over a year) I knew this baby could be my last. A boy and a girl would be just perfect.

You seldom had to wonder what Jaime was thinking — her face usually showed it!

When my daughter was put into my arms I overwhelmed. Dolls. Toenail polish. Earrings. Ruffled socks. Dresses. This mini-me with light hair and slate blue eyes filled me with wonder. I had a little girl to raise; to teach; to train to be a wife and mother herself; to watch Disney movies with. The mixture of responsibility and fun squeezed my heart.

God wasn’t finished giving me babies and Jaime welcomed each with joy. At 3 1/2 she eagerly welcomed baby brother Jesse and by the time Joey came less than two years later she had become an experienced big sister. When another little surprise was coming soon after, God answered her prayers for a baby sister. By the time Jake and Julia came I had to sometimes remind her that I, not she, was the Mom.

If you have a daughter you know the feeling of wanting to do a good job of being mommy to a little girl. As the mother of boys I loved the fun, laughter, antics, rough housing and boy stuff.  I loved how different the boys were from me — and how they competed about everything. But I have to admit that mothering daughters has been more weighty to me. I’ve felt a level of responsibility that has a different “flavor” than raising boys — an awareness that a part of me was being duplicated in my girls for good or not-so-good.

The first of five siblings comes home to a delighted big sister (and brother).

One day I was enjoying what had become a favorite part of my day — eavesdropping on Josh and Jaime playing together. I especially loved it when they were playing Benny and Sheree, so whenever I caught wind of this I dropped what I was doing to listen. “Benny and Sheree” were sitting at a kid’s table (that their children now use at Granma’s) having dinner at a restaurant.

“Benny we need to go now cuz the baby needs to go to bed,” Jaime said. “Okay,” agreed Josh, “but wait! I forgot my wallet! Do you have any money?” “No!” Jaime snapped, cramming her hands onto her hips. “You NEVER leave me any money!”

I had to cover my mouth to silence the chuckles from blowing my cover. They had just role-played an interaction between Benny and me at a family dinner out just days earlier! I got to see and hear myself through my little girl’s eyes and ears. While there was some comic exaggeration in their exchange, it wasn’t that far from what really happened!

Yep, back in the day kids got “dressed up” every Sunday. I loved having an excuse to buy dresses!

That day I learned the next important truth I want to pass along to young moms: when it comes to parenting, more is caught than taught. (That phrase isn’t original; it’s one I heard years ago from a source I can’t remember.) We moms talk a lot to our kids. We correct; warn; instruct; remind; encourage; comfort. But nothing we say will affect our children as much as how we live

During her teen years my awareness of the importance of my motherly example deepened. While I tried to resist the pressure of thinking her maturity was directly related to my effectiveness, I found myself fretful at times. Was I doing a good job raising her in the throes of mothering her five younger siblings? Was I expecting too much help and service from her as the oldest girl in a large family? How affected was she by my struggles and sin patterns? What kind of young woman was she becoming? How would she reflect on our relationship when she looks back as an adult woman? Was she “catching” my preferences or my values?

I have some really good news for moms of daughters. How you live your life day in and day out is making a difference in your little girl’s life. You are weak and flawed. You don’t always set the kind of example you want for her. But you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t value motherhood and strive to be a really good mom.

I still see this face in my grown up daughter. Now she has a daughter this age!

Jaime and I went through our share of hard times. I didn’t make it easy for her to share her struggles and temptations. In fact, I assumed that how we were raising our kids meant they probably wouldn’t have the same kinds of struggles we did as teens. (What were we thinking??? If you have thought that, too, please reconsider. Temptations are common from one generation to the next, no matter how you are raised.) I didn’t ask enough gentle, compassionate and probing questions…then ask them again as the Holy Spirit led next week or the week after and the month after!…that would have helped our relationship and provided her with a come-alongside-me Mom to empathize with her struggles.

But God has been faithful.

In spite of my mothering weaknesses Jaime not only survived but flourished. She is the mother of four adorable children who are a joy to have around. She and her husband, PJ, are raising their children to love God and His church — and to enjoy their relationships as a family. My “I don’t wanna homeschool” teenaged daughter has become a vibrant homeschooling mom who is being used to serve and help other homeschooling families in our area. How wonderful it is to me to have a daughter who humbly acknowledges her temptations and struggles. I get to empathize with her, remind her of my own struggles and point her to the God who redeemed my own flawed motherhood for good in her life.

And He will do the same for her.

Jaime and the soldier boy who won her heart.

Please don’t interpret my homeschooling example wrongly. The point isn’t that I homeschooled and now she does. She and her husband could have chosen another educational route for their children that was best for their family. The point is this: more really is caught than taught. My little girl caught that being a wife, mother and homemaker is valuable even in a culture that salutes achievement outside the home over the daily grind of rearing children. What that looks like in her life isn’t exactly the same as it did in mine — but there are enough similarities for me to regularly stop and thank God for the incredible woman she is and that she did catch some good stuff from the mom who sarcastically chastised her daddy for never leaving me any money.

My daughter studying the beautiful face of her own just-born daughter. What a moment.

With God’s supernatural help, keep doing what you’re doing with your kids. Through countless baths, peanut butter sandwiches, reminders to be kind, requests for forgiveness for being harsh, diaper changes, bedtime prayers and corrections for doing wrong you are modeling for your daughter what godly womanhood is all about. And if you have boys, you are teaching them what to look for in a wife someday as your example creates in them an appetite to love someone that’s kinda like Mom.

Think about it. It’s likely that the little girl you’re reminding not to take the clothes off her dolly because you know she’ll lose them will have a real baby of her own someday. Until then, day by day you are demonstrating for her how to love and care for that little one she will someday hold in her arms. Oh, what a day that will be.

My Jaime Sheree has a Kayla Sheree with three younger siblings who are being raised by a mom whose mom is watching. You see, I’m still kind of eavesdropping on her. What I’m seeing and hearing still makes me chuckle at times — but it mostly makes me grateful to God for giving my grandchildren such an incredible mother.

Jaime and I are different in many ways. I don’t have a tattoo, never played basketball when I was 8 months pregnant, didn’t birth any of my kids in the tub at home and didn’t allow her to watch Star Wars movies till she was 14. Yet I’m grateful for what we have in common: saving faith in God; love for our husbands and children; affection for and involvement in a wonderful church; joy in our family; and a life of often exhausting and sin-tainted service to others. Only God could do that.

Happy Birthday, sweetie! The day you were born changed me — and watching you become the incredible, godly woman you are today reminds me that in the midst of the ups and downs of motherhood God makes sure that more is caught than taught.

PJ and Jaime with Kayla, Wyatt, Anniston and Danae. (Photo by Megan Kauflin)

Go Ahead, Laugh Now

If you’re a mom of small children, do you ever find yourself resenting the daily grind and responsibilities of caring for little ones? Of course you do! During this blog series one of my primary goals is to put my arm around your shoulder and remind you that:

  • You’re not alone
  • Don’t be condemned by your/your children’s sinful choices
  • You’re gonna miss this
  • Sooner than you think you’ll be looking up to them

(If you haven’t read those posts yet you can scroll down to do so.) Motherhood is like any other hard work: it’s tiring. Day after day you do the same things over and over. I want to share with you a really effective secret to offset the challenges of your often wearisome life. So here’s what I want to tell you today: effective mothers know how to laugh.

My mother taught me to laugh at my children. As a grandmother I now know why she so easily found humor in the things my kids said and did. She laughed as she told me that 2-year-old Josh put a booger in her mouth during worship one Sunday morning (she thought it was part of his chewing gum). Laughed when she tripped over one of the kids shoes and heard a little voice yelling, “Wow Nannie, your underwear is huge!” Laughed when antics that tempted me to be frustrated with interruptions and changed plans sent her scurrying to the bathroom because laughter pressure sends lots of older mothers running to pee.

She taught me well. While I worked hard to teach and train my kids, I also loved laughing at them. (Still do!) Laughter takes the edge off training and even disciplining them. Before Mom moved in with us for her last 8 years she and I talked on the phone almost daily. Her favorite part of the conversation was when I shared a funny thing or two that happened that day — and as soon as we got off the phone I knew she was calling one of her sisters to brighten their day with the latest grandkid story. Knowing how much Mom loved to laugh at my kids helped me look for and find humor in things that may have otherwise left me scowling.

Don’t get me wrong; I still got irritated. But when I would complain to Mom about finding clean and folded sheets turned into a fort in the boys room or finally discovering a bunch of missing apples in the toilet, her guffaws reminded me that laughter really is “good medicine.”

Recently a friend commented that she noticed how much our family laughs together. Hmmm…sometimes the laughter is in the form of mocking that we don’t know is hurtful (usually to one of us girls). But she’s right. We love to laugh. Mom taught us that. And without her reminders I think I would have taken motherhood way too seriously.

“Taken motherhood too seriously?” you ask. “Motherhood is the most serious thing ever! And if I laugh at my kids they won’t take me seriously. Surely you’re not saying I should encourage their wrong behavior or attitudes by laughing at them?!?”

Motherhood is the.most.serious.thing you will do with your life. Nurturing little people and doing your part to prepare them to be mature, wise, courageous and godly young adults is no small task! Rearing little boys and girls to embrace their roles and responsibilities in the home, church and society is…well…really serious.

But take it from a woman who has devoted nearly thirty-five years to the weighty responsibilities of raising kids: laughing at them is really important.

Sometimes you can’t let them see you laugh. Like the time 9-year-old Janelle ran headlong down the basketball court in the wrong direction but eager to score with her Nannie screaming, “Go, MIssy! Go!!!!” Or the time 4-year-old Josh “bathed” his little sister in (clean, thankfully!) toilet water using Mommy’s maxipads. Or the day I found my toddler sons in a fist fight for the first (and only, thankfully!) time and had to stop chuckling before I broke it up.

Even when letting them see your grins could embarrass them or minimize the wrong of what they’re doing, grin secretly on. Kids are funny and sometimes Moms can’t see the forest for the trees. Enjoying the wonder and hilarity of having little kids around makes the weight more bearable.

Once I realized that I needed to be a laughing mom I decided that the first words out of my mouth to Benny would be something funny the kids did or said. Prior to that I found myself looking forward to him calling or walking in the door because I could finally let off some of the days’ steam. I wanted something — sympathy? thanks? comfort? help? — so I too often unleashed my woes from the day onto my husband.

What a difference it made to let my first comments to him about the day be funny ones. Like the time Josh, Jaime and I searched for nearly 30 minutes for 3-year-old Jesse, only to find him in the kitchen closet patiently waiting to say “Boo!” to me as I walked by. In earlier years I would have complained about how exasperated I was by him not responding to our repeated calls — and how Daddy needed to talk to him about how important it is to respect and respond to Mommy and how dinner was gonna be late because I wasted thirty minutes looking for his son.

Stop and think about the things your kids did months or years ago that resulted in you being mad or frustrated or tardy — but that you now hold as endearing memories that make you smile. Why not smile sooner rather than later? Being a mother gives you a front row seat to a multi-year comedy club! American’s Funniest Home Videos is happening at your house multiple times throughout the weeks and months. When you walk in to get a 2-year-old up one morning  and find poop finger painted on the walls above the crib, you can think, “Perfect. Just how I wanted to start my day! Thanks, kid.” Or you can stop for a second and fast forward to the day when you’ll tell his or her fiance about this. So go grab your camera.

If it’ll be funny later, it can be funny now.

Looking Up Soon

It was a cold winter day in early 1989 when I surprised Benny with a question. We were on a couples retreat with the pastors and wives we served alongside at our church in Virginia. Our dinner interaction to begin the retreat involved picking marriage and family-related questions out of a basket to read aloud and answer: some funny, others serious. I made sure the basket was passed to insure Benny went last. I secretly removed the remaining question in the basket and replaced it with one I had prepared especially for him.

Jake at 1 year. Love those blue eyes!

Jake at 1 year. Love those blue eyes!

He opened the folded paper and read, “How do you feel about being the father of six?” Puzzled, he glanced at me. “Six? Huh?” I saw the wheels turning. My girlfriends got it before he did but they waited….

“Yes, six,” I responded. “I’m pregnant.”

Eight months later another little blonde, blue-eyed baby was born — our sixth in eleven years. His five siblings were waiting in a nearby room at the hospital, eager to meet their baby brother. An already full house was now fuller. More laundry; delayed sleep; no-longer-hot food; pacing with a fussy baby. And more teary conversations with Benny about being tired and overwhelmed.

Keep reading. This post isn’t just about me. If you’re a mom or plan to be a mom, it’s about you, too.

Yesterday number six turned 23 and I didn’t see him because he’s away at law school. After 22 birthday cakes and singing “Happy Birthday” with his sibs and clapping when he blew out his candles and watching his eyes light up with each gift, I had to settle for a phone exchange.

I really don’t know where the years went. Even the nights that crawled by when every tick of the clock reminded me that he and I were the only ones still awake now seem so short.

Age 2…and recently he told his dad he’s still trying to fill his shoes.

On Thursday I said “you’re gonna miss this” and today I want to encourage you to get ready — sooner than you think you’ll be looking up to them.

Right now they fit in your lap. Tug on your pants. Stain your clothes with their spit up or sticky faces. Interrupt your phone calls and mess up your folded laundry. Miss the toilet. And maybe refuse to respond to other’s outstretched arms because they want to be with you. But soon — very soon — they’ll be too big to carry or hold in your lap and will want to spend time with others more often than you’ll probably desire.

it happens so gradually that it actually sneaks up on you. But one day you’ll notice it…and it will seem like it happened overnight. His voice starts to deepen and dad says it’s time to show the same kid you use to quickly grab the razor from how to use it. Her little stick legs take shape and you notice she’s being unusually giggly around a two-inches-shorter-than-her boy. You find yourself holding your hand up against your shoulder to show friends how tall they’re getting and just as you get used to looking eye to eye they walk away and…wait… did you just have to tilt your eyes upward?

What happened?

Age 17 (long after he passed Mom AND Dad up in height).

Your baby became a toddler became a teen. Days that crawled along suddenly seem like they whizzed by. Remember the six-week appointment when you were relieved to hear he had gained weight? What about that first Christmas she didn’t ask for a baby doll — but you bought one anyway just to prove she was still your little girl? Suddenly they start adding opposite sex names to birthday invite lists when just yesterday they adhered to the unspoken, universal rule in Sunday School that girls and boys don’t even sit at the same table!

Please live today for tomorrow. You are building a relationship with your little ones. Don’t be so consumed in mothering tasks (which are many!) that you miss enjoying and getting to know your child. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that patterns of anger and frustration with them won’t affect whether they’ll want to be around when they’re 16. When my kids were little I regularly reminded myself that I was building a foundation on which much would be carried during their adolescent and young adult years. With God’s strength, I could build something frail and selfish that could be easily destroyed — or something solid and lasting that could endure the common parent/teen challenges to come. I made mistakes I now regret and am enjoying the fruit of God-energized sacrifice. Yes, the regrets sometimes haunt me but the fruit is sweeter than I anticipated.

Your baby will soon lose the tooth you just celebrated. Before you know what hit you, the child who just learned to read will be studying a driver’s manual for an upcoming test. And without much warning the kid who willingly held your hand in public stiffens slightly or pulls away — and you know you won’t be walking hand in hand again.

Age 23 — I’m looking up to him in more ways than I can count. Happy Birthday, Son.

So enjoy every hug when people are around and when they’re not. When they interrupt after you’ve tried to train them not to, make sure they don’t feel like an inconvenience in your otherwise important life as you gently remind them…again. Stoop down or pick them up to get as much eye to eye contact as possible. And even when punishment is warranted, work hard to make it easy for them to confess their wrongs so when their temptations become more serious they’ll know it’s okay to tell Mom anything because of how often she reminded them that she, too, messes up.

With each inch they grow, be there. Be there to read a story when you’re having a hard time keeping your eyes open. To listen when you desperately need someone to talk to. To cheer and rejoice and congratulate their little accomplishments when you long for someone to look you straight in the eyes  to say you’re doing a good job.

I’m looking up to seven now. Yesterday Jake posted kind and humbling words on my Facebook that reminded me of why young, tired, distracted moms keep giving and loving and serving year after year.

I’m looking forward to Friday afternoon when a tall young man will walk into the house (probably singing). Yesterday he told me he’s looking forward to his double chocolate birthday cake. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday” and clap when he blows out the candles.  We may even be able to “do something” on Saturday — just the two of us. And that was his idea.

Yes, I tilt my head up to him now. No longer a baby, toddler or teen. He’s a man. Our relationship is different and there’s another woman in his life who made the trip to celebrate his birthday. She’s delightful — and if she’s the woman Benny and I have been preparing him for all these years I will gladly step aside and make sure she becomes his go-to lady.

But he’s still and will always be my son.

Keep building that relationship with your little ones. And get ready to look up.

You’re Gonna Miss This

I was sitting at the kitchen table of a older friend pouring out my heart about how tired I was. Having five children in less than eight years had taken a toll on me. With tears brimming, I asked her to tell me everything would be okay and I wouldn’t die from sheer exhaustion.

“Honey, you’re gonna miss this,” she replied.

Miss this? Never going to the bathroom alone? Remembering at 2 PM that I haven’t eaten all day and having to settle for a half eaten hotdog lying on a now-hard roll on the kitchen counter? Waking up numerous times a night to nurse a baby or comfort a nightmarish toddler? Leaving malls or grocery stores with nothing I intended to purchase because someone decided to throw a temper tantrum for all to see? Falling into bed exhausted but not being able to fall quickly to sleep because I’m already dreading the undone tasks I’m now mentally adding to tomorrow’s already-full day? Reminding and disciplining kids who then keep interrupting, bickering and whining as if they’ve never been taught otherwise?

“You’re gonna miss this” wasn’t what I wanted to hear that day. I wanted to hear that a magic day was coming (soon!) when tantrums and whining and messes and undone task lists would end! I wanted to hear that now that my youngest was three I could at least start sleeping….

A few weeks later I found out number six was coming.http://www.bebeonline.com

Now I’m that older woman — and let’s pretend you’re sitting at my kitchen table. I know you’re tired. I remember how hard it was to train and discipline and teach kids who seemed to have either hearing deficits or serious memory issues. When I see the newly pregnant look on a mom’s face I can actually feel the nausea churning in my stomach. As Granma to eleven, I’m back to bathroom breaks being interrupted with “I’m thirsty!” or “Why is the door locked? Can I come in?” And I know how long those nights are when your newborn decides it’s finally time to be awake….and your love of sleep is temporarily suspended because you’re captivated by staring into little eyes that seem to be saying, “Wow, my Mommy is really pretty.”

You are gonna miss it. All of it. Even the hard times and the days when all you can think about is bedtime and the weeks when the laundry pile never shrinks.

Why? Because you’re Mom. You live for them. Hurt with them. And, yes, sometimes yell at them. You planned them…or learned to except God’s plan when they weren’t on your radar screen. You couldn’t wait for them to say your name — and even though you now sometimes wish you didn’t hear “MOM!” so often during the day, they will someday leave and you’ll eagerly anticipate hearing “Hey, Mom!” on the other end of the phone or when the door opens and they’re back home. You fight through your fatigue and anger and selfishness because being Mom means more to you than not having little people in your life that demand more of you than you have the strength to give.

The reason you will miss this is because your life is making more of a difference than you ever thought possible.  In spite of the fatigue and bouts with anger you are being used by God in more ways than you know. Who would have thought you would be shaping the lives of such adorable little sinners and have the breathtaking joy of pointing them to their need for a Savior? Do you see how often you are showing them Mommy also needs her Savior to give her strength and to forgive her when she sins…against them? How is it possible that you have been entrusted the amazing privilege of molding, shaping, teaching, and nurturing future adults who will take what they’re learning from you and pass all those things along to one generation after another as your legacy of godliness makes it’s way to those you will never know?

You are doing what God has called you to do. He is using you — a flawed, weak, sinful, tired vessel — to pour out to them what has been poured into you by the One who says, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

You won’t start sleeping again soon. It may be a long time before you see real fruit from your training and discipline. Tired days will continue because whether you’re a stay-at-home-mom or are juggling work and motherhood, being Mom is the hardest thing a woman can do with her life. And even when they get older they will yell “MOM!” when they can’t find their homework or basketball shorts or the car keys they know they left hanging on the peg by the door.

But one day you’ll be sitting alone in your quiet house. No toys strewn about. No fingerprints on the sliding door. No school books sprawled on the kitchen counter. No lost keys or clothes. For awhile the quiet will be sweet and comforting. You’ll be able to have leisurely times with God and actually have time to think about what needs to be done today — and get most of it done! You’ll get through the grocery store in less than 30 minutes because you’re alone and you don’t need to buy as much stuff anymore. But then you decide to walk down the cookie and candy aisle because your son is coming home this weekend from college or you want to stock up on goodies in case the new little people in your life come by this week.

You’re happy to put gummy bears and goldfish crackers and Fruit Loops on the conveyer belt…oh, and Windex!…because soon there will be finger prints on the sliding doors again.  And you’ll look forward to Friday night when a grandson will be spending the night and maybe, just maybe, he’ll have a nightmare so Granma can hold and comfort him or he’ll get a boo boo that needs kissing.

You’re gonna miss this, young mom. That doesn’t mean today won’t still be hard. But try to remember to think about the older lady who gave you some advice that perhaps you don’t wanna hear…but that you’ll be sharing with your daughter or other young mom someday because you found it was true.

P.S. This post is dedicated to Jaime, Rachel, Rebekah, Lauren and Canada. Thanks for the fingerprints on my doors.

Wait…My Sin Doesn’t Mean I’m Not a Good Mom???

Suzy called me asking to talk about some issues she was facing with her pre-teen daughter. At age twelve, Sarah was showing no interest in spiritual things and had started protesting about getting up on Sunday mornings to attend church with the family. Suzy was perplexed. Her daughter had always enjoyed going on Sunday morning and had numerous friends in the church. But in recent months she had started spending lots of time alone in her room and was increasingly reluctant to hang out with the family or church friends.

As we talked it became apparent that Sarah was blaming herself and her husband for Suzy’s spiritual apathy and family aloofness. She lamented their inconsistent family devotional times and was fearful about Sarah’s path imitating her own rebellious teen years. The thought of Sarah not having a close relationship with God and the family was haunting…

“Sheree, I just don’t understand. I’ve tried so hard to be a good mom and to raise Suzy to love God. We’ve been actively involved in our church and have surrounded her with wholesome friends. Suddenly she’s drawn to music and movies and friends that we don’t approve of. What happened? What did we do wrong?”

On Monday I reminded moms of young children that your struggles and temptations are commonly shared by other moms. Today, I want to warn you not to feel condemned by your children’s sinful choices. 

The humble mother wants to take seriously her own common struggles. As Suzy and I talked over several months, the Lord graciously revealed to her that patterns of anger and fear of man (craving the acceptance and approval of people more than God) had negatively affected her relationship with Sarah. She saw that her expectations of Sarah were frequently higher than Sarah’s age and maturity warranted. When her daughter didn’t complete school assignments on time, reacted angrily or selfishly toward her younger siblings, responded disrespectfully to Mom or disregarded the request to keep her room tidy, Sarah neglected to view her daughter as a fellow sinner in need of God’s power to do what is right. Rather, she sinned back at Sarah with eye rolling irritation, anger laden mini-lectures and self-pitying comments about how much Mom did around the house without much help. God also showed her that some of her desires for Sarah to “act well” was to impress others, avoid embarrassment and to known as an effective mother.

Sarah’s reactions were familiar to me. I was easily able to identify with her and to share my own stories of similarly self-righteous responses to my children and reputation consciousness. The self-righteous mother holds herself up as the example to her children rather than doing what Christ did: condescending to assume of posture of understanding and compassion. And the approval-driven mother often evaluates herself by her children’s actions and attitudes.

I’ll be sharing more in other posts about the importance of training young children to obey and respect their parents. But we must remember that our children are just like us: flawed and broken sinners in need of a Savior to help them to what is right. Without Christ, we moms have no ability to fulfill our Father’s righteous requirements to obey and follow Him. Our unsaved little ones (or big ones, for that matter) are just as incapable of obeying their father and mother without His help.

Suzy’s and my conversations didn’t start with her contributions to Sarah’s struggles. Our first interactions focused on this important truth that I want to encourage you to remind yourself of each and every day: Your mothering weaknesses and sins cannot and will not keep God from working in your child’s heart. Nothing can prevent the power of God from invading and changing your child! Not their sin…not your sin…not anything!

Just think about it. Were you raised by sinless parents? Did they do everything “right”? Were they the ones to reach into your unsaved heart and tenderize it to see your need for a Savior? No. You are a believer today because the Holy Spirit drew your sinful heart to know and love God, leading you to request and receive forgiveness for your sin and providing you with full access to the throne of grace.

I wish I could sit with any of you who are reading this and thinking, “Is this true??? Can God really work through my weaknesses and failures; my lecturing and complaining; my angry, selfish reactions to reach my child’s heart?”

Yes He can. Every child or teen or adult that has experienced saving faith was raised by flawed parents. This doesn’t mean our flaws and sins are excusable. In fact, once Suzy became firm in the fact that God viewed her motherhood through the lens of the perfect obedience of Christ and that she didn’t have to “perform” for Him or others to feel like a good mom, she was energized to take a hard look at her sinful reactions to Sarah. She humbly asked Sarah’s forgiveness and today they enjoy a warm and close relationship. Sarah is now married and is a loving mom to Suzy’s two granddaughters — and she looks to her mom for help with her own mothering challenges. She’s still not in the spiritual place Suzy longs for her daughter to be, but she is making progress!

Would you want to take a minute and pray this prayer with me?

Lord, thank you that as a Christian I am completely accepted by You. I really don’t have to earn Your acceptance and favor, and I have Your power to help me to be a godly mother. I want to change. I want to deal with any patterns of sin in how I relate to my children. But for now I just want to say thanks. Thank you for saving me and for assuring me that YOU will work in my children’s hearts. Neither my sin nor theirs is a match for Your love and irresistible grace! What relief. I’m so grateful. Amen. 

Missing Shoe Tears

Last Friday I mentioned I wanted to spend some beach time with the moms of young children who visit this blog. While fall in Florida is a great time to hang out at the beach, it looks like we’ll have to settle for connecting here….

As a pastor’s wife whose husband has always needed to leave early, Sunday mornings became more challenging as each of our little ones came along. Over the years Benny and I learned to spend 30 minutes on a couple of Saturday-night tasks like tidying the house, getting the kids clothes (and shoes!) out and setting out cereal and bowls. What a difference these little actions made once 7:30 AM the next morning came along!

But one memorable Sunday morning Jesse couldn’t find his left shoe.  In those days we all got “dressed up” and the kids only had one pair of dress shoes. Both shoes were placed bedside the night before — but every mother knows that sometimes kids’ stuff just disappears!

I don’t remember how the shoe issue got resolved but I sure remember the resultant tears. Just as I inserted the key into the ignition, they starting falling. I laid my head on the steering wheel and cried. I had been harsh with the kids and felt like I was in no condition to show up at the meeting with a smile on my face, ready to worship God.

Yes — I became angry and harsh with my kids over a shoe. And that wasn’t the only time something I now see as trivial resulted in me feeling overwhelmed and reacting angrily or selfishly toward my kids.

The thought I want to share with young moms today is this: Your struggles and temptations are common. When you show up at church on Sunday mornings, share a business lunch with co-workers or read facebook updates about gourmet dinners and the list of heroic accomplishments of other moms when it’s 4 PM and you’re still in your pajamas, it can be discouraging. (I’m so glad facebook didn’t exist when I was your age!) We girls are notorious for comparing ourselves to others. These comparisons can either produce self-righteous attitudes of superiority, unknowing jealousy or weighty battles with condemnation because we’re not a “good” mom like so-and-so.

Ladies, I’m not suggesting that you minimize patterns of anger or selfishness in how you treat your children. While children are forgiving, we moms can’t take advantage of their love by continuing to sin against them without crying out to God to change our hearts. But please know this: every mom you know is just like you — gifted, loving and laying down her life for her children every day but also flawed, weak and perhaps hesitant to let others in on her lay-your-head-on-the-steering-wheel-and-cry moments.

Read these encouraging and possibly familiar words from 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Every temptation you face is common. I’m not the only mother who has ended up overwhelmed, harsh and angry over a shoe. The amazing truth is that a faithful, patient God is there for and with you.  He is your way of escape. Run to Him when you are angry, weary, condemned or bitter. You are running to a throne of grace where your sins will be forgiven by a gracious God. If you are Christian, you have been declared not guilty of every past, present and future sin — and God sees you as living the perfect life of obedience purchased by His son.

Wait. I need to read that paragraph again. Ladies, I’m not making this stuff up. These are timeless truths from God’s infallible word!

If understood properly, this glorious truth won’t make you fine with continuing in sin. Rather, it will motivate you to repent and trust Christ to change you.

I am still running to that throne of grace. Late last week — and after 34 years of motherhood — I was struggling with self-pitying, resentful thoughts toward one of my kids. So join me in turning to Christ for the escape from temptation and finding fresh hope in repentance and faith for change.

If some Sunday morning you’re in tears over being harsh or angry toward your kids (even if you have a husband there to help you) remember this: you are no less worthy to worship God on a bad morning than on a good one — when no one lost their shoe and you arrived at church fifteen minutes early. Because of His sinless life and substitutionary death, you have been made worthy by the One who sacrificed all to open that throne of grace to you and every other mom who shows up that morning feeling just as unworthy as you do.

Even on your very worst day ever.

P.S.  Thanks to Jerry Bridges for teaching me what you read in that last paragraph. If you haven’t read The Disciplines of Grace you can order it here. It’s one of the books that truly changed my life!

Wanna Join Me Beachside?

I want to talk to young moms. Maybe you’re one…or perhaps you know one. I didn’t have an older woman to sit me down and tell me helpful stuff about motherhood when I had small children. My wonderful mom and sister were always there for me but their lives were full and perhaps I didn’t exude the kind of humility that invited them to share their hearts with me.

So at times I felt disoriented amidst the weariness and busyness of life with little ones. I labored to keep the future in my vision — but often I was just trying to make it till nap time.

Now my youngest is 18.  Yes, 18! Her six older siblings range from 22 to 34 and I’m Granma to eleven of the.most.adorable kids you’ve ever seen. For years I have sought to devote myself to embracing the biblical mandate to “teach younger women” (Titus 2:3). Once I crossed my 50th birthday I acknowledged that I’m officially one of the “older women” of whom Paul spoke. Blogging is one of the ways I can do that from my home and it’s been wonderful hear from some of you along the way.

Some of my teaching is in the form of sharing what not to do and who not to be. Whenever I write or speak, I’m amused that my most memorable comments are the illustrations about things my kids or I did that were wrong or sinful. My now 29-year-old’s toddler temper tantrums; the pity party I had with myself when I wanted to throw in the homeschooling towel; the afternoon I got so mad at my husband that I slammed a door on him and drove off to a friend’s house; the young adult seasons when I was afraid for the spiritual condition of a child. These are the real life things I’ve gone through that seem to bring hope to young mothers.

Why? Because God has been faithful to bring me through. Nothing through which I have walked has been without His help, grace, presence and care. Even the things that happened that I would never want to experience again have been used by Him for amazing good.

Starting on Monday my posts will be heart to heart musings for young mothers. My life is full of hardworking and devoted young women. At times I want to take them all away to the beach, get out chairs and umbrellas and spend hour after hour thanking them for every sacrifice they are making to lay down their lives for their families. I want to cook for them; make them laugh; pray for them; and say things like:

  • You are making an eternal difference with your life. Your sacrifices are not in vain.
  • Your children will not always throw fits and throw up on you and run the other way when you call them.
  • You will miss this season. (I promise!)
  • You won’t sleep again.  I wish I could lie to you, but I can’t. Just when they start sleeping through the night and stop falling out of bed they’ll be teens who will only talk to you after 10 PM…and then you’ll be pre-menapausal.  Sorry!
  • The effort you’re investing into training and disciplining your children will be fruitful. God promises.
  • It’s not all on your shoulders. What you do matters but only God can mold and change your children’s hearts.
  • God will use even your mistakes for good in your children’s lives. No mom has gotten it all right and you you won’t either. That’s why your kids need a perfect, sinless Savior.
  • You will persevere — and they will thank you someday. Maybe not till they have their own kids but that first real “thanks, Mom” will be worth it all.

If you aren’t married or don’t have children, I hope you will still join me for this short series. And even if you’re a guy I think you’ll find help. You don’t have to be in a particular season of life to benefit from the hard fought struggles and lessons of another — and gain perspective and caring insight for the young moms in your life.

Pull up a beach chair and let’s chat.  See you Monday!

Boasting Isn’t Always Wrong

Yesterday I was talking about seasons — and how a marriage (or any relationship, for that matter) grows even through hard times.

But what about the growth that comes during good times?

As Christians, I think we can sometimes fall into only talking about God’s faithfulness, nearness and strength when times are tough. Out of a desire to empathize with the hurting and bring hope to the faltering, we can unknowingly rob God of His glory for bringing us through hard times to a place of strength, provision and joy.

A couple of years back I sensed the Lord wanted me to remind our church not to apologize for God’s goodness. In this word of encouragement I specifically addressed those who were prospering financially when many others were struggling to make ends meet.  “Don’t be ashamed of the outpouring of God’s provision when it seems the windows of heaven are pouring blessings on you when you stand among those who are weary and needy.”

Are you in a season of God’s blessing on your finances? Is your marriage thriving, with evidences of God’s help and grace abounding? Are your friendships growing? Are your kids getting along and being relatively respectful and compliant?

A sovereign God chooses both our trials and our prosperity. The Puritans talk about the Great Pharmacist who, like physicians in pre-pharmacy times, meticulously and wisely measures out a healing remedy for each ailment. Our God doesn’t dispense mass over-the-counter remedies! Rather, he personally and lovingly combines the perfect amount of ingredients — some harmful on their own! — to produce spiritual health and vitality.

Perhaps you are enjoying a season of blessing when former remedies God designed for you are producing delightful fruit! If so, please don’t be ashamed to boast in His goodness.

The morning I shared those encouraging words for our church a lady approached me to say thanks. She and her husband were in a season of joy and prosperity. His business had recently experienced some robust profits. Longstanding challenges in their marriage on which they had been working for years were a lessening problem. Her children were thriving in a new school and a difficult relationship with a family member had been recently reconciled.

“I’ve been feeling so guilty,” she said. “Many of my friends are really struggling and I feel badly for them. I haven’t even wanted to talk about how God is blessing us right now. It feels like God has now given me permission to talk about His goodness. I just don’t want it to seem like I’m being insensitive to others who are hurting.”

“If others struggle with your prosperity that’s between them and God,” I responded. “You obviously care about your friends and what they are going through, but this is a wonderful opportunity for them to rejoice with you just as you have wept with them, don’t you think?”

She agreed.

Boasting in the Lord’s goodness doesn’t have to be self-centered. Communicating His provision and blessing could tempt some to jealousy or bitterness. But it doesn’t have to. For those who truly love you, hearing of God’s faithfulness can bring fresh faith for them to persevere through the hardships that have gotten you to this place.

So go ahead…boast in your God. Just as God uses trials and suffering to grow and strengthen us, He also sanctifies and changes us through seasons of sweet provision.

Do you have a brief testimony about this? I’d love to hear it.

changing.seasons.

Love this picture that shows how different Alex and Ariel are!

Tonight we are having our next pre-marriage counseling time with Alex and Ariel, who are making the final plans for their October wedding. It’s got me thinking about my own marriage….

Life has seasons. There are supposed to be four, but in Florida we have only two. In fact, we’re about to enter into the season why so many people live to Florida. Sunny days in the mid 70’s with the windows open is my kind of winter!

Contrary to myth, Florida does get cold sometimes. There have been winters that remind me a little of living in Virginia. One time I even had to scrape frost off my windows and there were snow flurries not far from our home!

I admit it — those cold days use to surprise me. After all, who expects to need coats and scarves in Florida? But now I enjoy chilly days that require sweatshirts and allow a warm fire in the fireplace.

Is your marriage a two or four-season relationship? Do you find yourself regularly having to adjust to a new season just when you got comfortable with the former one? Do cold months surprise and discourage you?

  • Just when it seems you figure your spouse out, does it seem like a switch flipped and suddenly you don’t know him/her anymore?
  • Is job, family or financial stress exposing weaknesses in your relationship that you thought had been “fixed” in an earlier season?
  • Are you realizing that you and your spouse are struggling to communicate…and you don’t understand what happened?
  • Is the warmth and romance between you waning after a nice season of playfulness and oneness between you?
  • Does it feel like your relationship jumps around from tender to tense? Gentle to harsh? Patient to irritable?

I would answer yes to most of the above questions. My marriage is like yours and everyone else’s: it changes. The warmth of spring and summer leads to fall and winter coolness. Rain and snow fall. Days spent on the beach give way to crisp, drizzly reminders that the sun won’t always shine.

That’s us 39 1/2 years ago. I still love looking at him.

In six months Benny and I will celebrate 4 decades since the day two 18-year-olds got married. Our relationship, like our locale for 2/3 of those years, use to have four seasons. Honestly, most of that was due to me. Benny is a one-season kind of guy. He is steady; even-tempered (well…unless he’s watching sports); patient; flexible. I’m definitely a multi-season girl with changing moods, preferences and emotions; and I love a plan that doesn’t get changed (well…unless I want it to). But our marriage as pretty much leveled into 2 seasons, just like the Sunshine State where we now live. Benny’s steadiness and my feistiness have meshed into a comfortable spot where high winds have become more gentle breezes. We can also see ahead to storms brewing on the horizon — giving us the opportunity to batten down the communication hatches and do the hard work of preparing our marriage for what’s to come. This is the kind of stuff experience and many years together can produce with God’s help and two people who know they’re flawed and need His empowering grace.

Yes, we’re been married for nearly forty years. And by God’s grace we’ve made progress in becoming more a of two-season couple. But we’re not much different than Alex and Ariel, who are just starting out. People are different. Relationships change. But in the midst of it all God is unchanging.  Whether you experience confusing upheavals in your relationship or you’ve settled into less fluctuating marriage environment — every marriage is hard work and seasons, by definition, change.

Like Alex and Ariel’s, most marriages start with springlike love that is budding with beauty. But like every couple, they will soon discover that springtime doesn’t last all year. Gentle showers will be replaced by pelting rains. Blossoms will fall to the ground, leaving them wondering if new life will come from what appears to be dead.

Hopefully we will be there to remind them that every season has it’s beauty; even the cold ones that surprise us. While I’m much happier with Florida winters than with the ice storms and the stay-in-the-house-for-months lifestyle of Virginia winters, I do miss falling snow and sledding on Shiplett Boulevard with the kids.

God has always been faithful to us.

It true — even the harsh seasons in our marriage have value because God sees to it that the seeds of beauty survive. Whether you’re just starting out like Alex and Ariel or have weathered the seasons for decades like Benny and me, God is faithful. And you and I need Him.

After all, seasons were His idea. He could have made both the world and marriages thrive in steady sameness. But He chose change to be the conduit of growth and beauty.

Looking back on nearly 40 years of marriage I can say that even the worst seasons were worth weathering. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.